Like Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle before her, singer-songwriter A.A. Williams has struggled to shake off the ‘death gospel’ tag that was coined to describe women with a penchant for exploring the ethereal and the macabre. But while the metal scene has embraced her darkness, Williams’ haunting blend of post-rock and neo-classical has, in truth, much more in common with artists like Radiohead and Sigur Rós.
Hot on the heels of sweeping, string-augmented debut LP Forever Blue, Williams has now swapped gothic grandeur for stripped-back renditions of alternative classics. Her Songs From Isolation project first began back in March 2020, when You-Know-What caused the UK to grind to a halt. Along with hordes of other frustrated locked-down artists, the multi-instrumentalist started taking cover requests from her fans and performing them live from her North London flat. Here, she serves up nine stand-out tracks from these sessions, ranging from a skeletal arrangement of goth-pop pioneers The Cure‘s Lovesong to a majestic take on nu-metal titans Deftones‘ Be Quiet and Drive.
Sure, some of the choices on Songs From Isolation are more inspired than others (no one needed another version of Creep), but what makes this collection special is that the renditions are so – well – A.A. Williams. Stark, striking and often plumbing new emotional depths, she takes each much-loved track and gives it a fresh focus. Indeed, The Smashing Pumpkins‘ Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans – one of their masterpieces from Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness – is pulled back from its original epic 10-minute running time and thrives as a tender piano ballad. Likewise with her Pixies cover, which sees Williams dispense with the band’s trademark distorted guitars in favour of spine-tingling sparseness.
With such a plethora of forgettable covers albums out there, it’s rare for one to make a real impact, but Songs From Isolation is a gorgeous collection that hits home in these bizarre times. Intense and distinctive, it’s the sound of someone finding solace in music – and that’s something we can all relate to right now.