New Zealand seems to like its one woman bands. Last year we had the excellent Ladyhawke, and this year we have the second album from Annabel Alpers, otherwise known as Bachelorette – a seemingly timely release given the preponderance of ‘one girl and her synth’ acts around at the moment.
Yet one listen to My Electric Family will convince you that it’s not as simple as that. Whereas Ladyhawke was all big shiny pop, a Fleetwood Mac updated for the 21st century, Bachelorette is more strange, eerie and experimental – nestling nicely next to names such as Animal Collective, Joanna Newsom and Bjork. It’s a fair bet to say she won’t be troubling the charts anytime soon.
Alper’s second album is lo-fi, spacey electronica. At times, it’s beautiful and it’s never less than impeccably crafted. Indeed, every listen throws something new and surprising into the mix, be it the brass band on Dreamscape, the gently plucked acoustic guitar on Instructions For Insomniacs or the multi-tracked vocals on Long Time Gone.
At first listen though, it’s just possible that Bachelorette may well leave you cold. Maybe it’s Alper’s aloof delivery (sometimes, possibly deliberately, she sounds almost robotic), or maybe it’s the sheer preponderance of electronic sounds that seem to rob the record of any emotion.
But given a few plays it quietly reveals its charms. The very fact that Alpers seems so removed becomes ever more poignant with every listen – on Mercurial Man she delicately intones “I’m in love with mercurial man, where is he now, is he thinking of me?”, and it sounds desperately sad. Yet she can turn her hand to disco as well, as the funky Mindwarp, with its old school drum punctuations, proves.
Only occasionally does it go a bit awry – Technology Boy overdoes it on the vocoder effects and what begins sounding like the missing link between Laurie Anderson and Kraftwerk descends into a bit of a mess. Much better is Dream Sequence, appropriately hypnotic but expertly mixing in a brass band – apparently the sound of the Royal New Zealand Air Force Brass Band.
There are other nice touches scattered through the album, such as the ’50s guitar riff on Donkey, sounding like a out-take from a David Lynch film, or the multitude of ‘doo-wop’ backing vocals during the closing Little Bird Tells Lies. It’s an album that’s obviously had an inordinate amount of love and attention paid to its crafting.
Never less than dreamy, My Electric Family is endlessly inventive and rewarding. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but those willing to invest a bit of time in it will find a thing of rare beauty.