Album Reviews

FOE – Bad Dream Hotline

(Mercury) UK release date: 16 January 2012

FOE – or 21-year-old Hannah Clark, if you prefer – has gone from nought to ninety miles-per-hour in the blink of an eye: in the past 12 months and little more she has leapt from homemade MySpace compositions to major label debut, along the way garnering acclaim for her Hot New Trash EP and a slew of exciting tracks.

A colourful back story has helped stoke the flames of interest as well as shed light on Clark’s sound (a teen witch? Sounds like TV movie material), and elements born of teen obsessions with Nirvana and Polly Harvey – as well as the ringing endorsement of a certain Shirley Manson – rear their heads frequently in the FOE mix; a mix laid down, rather tellingly at times, by Dan Grech (The Vaccines, Howling Bells) and Mike Crossey (Arctic Monkeys, Foals).

And while such influences run constant throughout Bad Dream Hotline, there are myriad peripherals clambering to be heard as Clark runs the gamut from goth pop to post-punk with startling abandon. Far from burdening the album with something of an identity crisis, it is a freewheeling approach that requires a listener’s nimble attention; a deft-handed cross-pollination that drags genre components kicking and screaming into a Grimm fairytale for 2012.

Take opener Ballad For The Brainkeepers: it slides languidly into earshot over Addams Family-style organ drones, Clark’s tactile delivery – detailing some sort of dismembered dystopia – lounging over what soon reveals itself to be a thrilling post-rock pummelling.

Follow-up Mother May I?, too, juxtaposes a gritty, grungy instrumental against pure-yet-suggestive vocals – channelling an embodiment of more industrially-inclined Austra – and stands as one of the album’s most lingering, most compelling highlights.

Though Jailhouse falls a little short – matching the verve but lacking the incision of its predecessors – Tyrant Song quickly illustrates the buzz around FOE, its heavy, scuzzy lead riff playing out strikingly against demented synth licks and Clark’s earworm-inducing implorations: “Are you ready for the next big thing?” she asks, her lips seemingly curling into a snarling smirk.

By this stage the bar has been set, and one can’t help but envision FOE as a Home Counties Metric or even Ladyhawke. Accent intact, Clark hurls romantic-yet-twisted, cynical-yet-sensual sentiments over jagged, overdriven soundscapes, and the rewards are reaped: stepping on from the Monster Hospital-esque Tyrant Song, A Handsome Stranger Called Death contrasts with candour – Clark’s yearning taking centre stage more than ever – before Get Money’s slow stomp casts ruthless aspersions on the pursuit of wealth.

There’s also The Black Lodge, a pop-punk schoolyard ditty named for the Twin Peaks locale, and on Genie In A Coke Can Clark chides pop princesses – Aguilera, judging by the title – who rack up “millions in marketing” and should know better.

The album’s coda, satisfyingly enough, is home to further successes: Ode To Janey Lou’s clever wordplay relates warped longing with freakshow-type fascination; Dance & Weep chimes forward with pitch-perfect heartache; current single Cold Hard Rock stands as the FOE blueprint, its sinister imagery married to dance-punk abandon.

Bad Dream Hotline lands as a debut almost perfectly formed; a cool, cunning and cleverly-crafted collection that siphons styles into an existence simultaneously pop-friendly and razor-sharp. Without doubt an early pace-setter for 2012.

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