New Worlds, the third solo release from former Ash guitarist and touring Bat For Lashes member Charlotte Hatherley is a true indie-pop gem. Here, Hatherley – whose sweet and often lilting voice is a perfect counterpoint for her brash and destructive guitar playing – demonstrates a talent for graceful genre skipping, bouncing from angular, aggressive rock ‘n’ roll to lush, whimsical pop and back.
Hatherley’s voice takes front and centre here, ranging from lovely and intimate (Alexander), to Karen O style wailing (Straight Lines) and rivaling in sheer presence that of Metric‘s Emily Haines. But her talents as a guitarist cannot be overlooked – she’s got a knack for a kind of fuzzed out, quirky indie-rock guitar playing – and she certainly holds her own a role generally reserved for the boys.
New Worlds plays like a great night out, opening with a bang in the form of the hard-hitting fuzz and pop handclaps of the stellar rocker, White and running the gamut of ups, downs, and unexpected turns. On White, she sings, “My hair is red and glows against the walls. Your eyes are blue, bright and shiny to the light. The world is broke. There’s only you and I in white, white, white,” establishing herself, and perhaps less importantly, the object of her attention, as a rare glimpse of colour in an otherwise sterile and blindingly bland world. Overwrought and self-righteous? Not this time; Hatherley sings it like she means it.
Alexander begins prettily enough, with acoustic guitar and warbling xylophone, but then turns into a rocker, mirroring, just a little, the Pixies‘ Alex Eiffel. The surprises continue on the wonderfully quirky Firebird, which feels like it’d be right at home among the most whimsical tracks on The Kinks‘ Muswell Hillbillies. It’s bizarre amongst all the rock ‘n’ roll with its bouncing circus-like sonic configuration, but Hatherley’s voice helps its imagery to make sense.
Amid the purposefully ham-handed guitar and pounding drums of Full Circle, Hatherley demands: “Oh, imagine you’re an animal, immediate and visceral.” This philosophy can be transcribed to her music, and it’s easy to imagine that this is the way she approaches her songwriting and performing. The whole album has a sense of immediacy to it, a demanding to be heard, and a sense that all this beauty and anger is only valid in this moment, and that it might all have collapsed by this time tomorrow.
Nothing feels trite or fake about New Worlds. No song plays to predictability, and in a world of talentless pop songstresses who rely heavily on savvy producers, Hatherley is a welcome glimpse of real rock ‘n’ roll rebellion and DIY attitude. Recorded completely live in a London studio over a single week, the album is permeated with a sense of discontentedness; it has the feeling of jumping from rooftop to rooftop without being totally sure you’ll make it, of hanging in the precipice and not caring that you’ve no option to turn back.
In the standout track, Cinnabar, Hatherley sings about what happens when “light from another room radiates over you,” and with New Worlds, she’s given us a fleeting glimpse of that other room, just on the edge of what we’re used to. This is what a rock ‘n’ roll album made in 2009 is supposed to sound like.