The title is an immediate curiosity. ‘Elytral’ refers to the ‘modified, hardened forewing of certain insect orders, notably beetles’ – and is the moniker under which Mary Epworth’s second album sits. She may have chosen the word for its sound and appearance on the page, but a more likely answer is naming an album in homage to one of the most durable insect forms on earth.
Durability is a quality Epworth shows throughout, and this follow-up to 2012’s Dream Life also keeps her penchant for the unexpected, with music that often changes direction mid-song. What it also does is branch further out into electronic means of production, using its ingredients to create an ultimately positive and upward looking piece of work.
All this despite a moment on Lost Everything where Epworth declares, “You’ve got to give it all away, just to know how much more there is to lose, when you’ve lost everything”. Her vocal delivery somehow sees this as a good thing, and the music responds accordingly, the production bathing the vocals in a golden hue as the singer declares herself thoroughly cleansed.
Far more disturbing is the sudden jolt in Last Night, a song that begins innocuously enough until a sudden flash of distortion, where a new image flashes before our faces like a nightmarish vision from a David Lynch film.
None of the songs on Elytral are shrinking violets, though there are tender moments within them. Watching The Sun Go Down is a powerful song with a plaintive coda, Epworth’s need for companionship musically embodied by a strangely moving oboe solo. The saxophone, meanwhile, becomes her instrument for frenetic activity, embodying the spirit of Gone Rogue but also let of the leash for some frenzied, off-piste work towards the end of Bring Me The Fever.
This is a remarkable song, an illustration of Epworth’s freedom to dispense with any form of script, running more on pure primal instinct. The kinked oscillations of the vocal and accompanying electronics creates a new dimension, before being kicked into touch by more aggressive riffing.
It is also a song that shows the versatility of Epworth’s voice, fed though it is through a large amount of processing. At times she can resemble Poliça’s Channy Leaneagh, not just in timbre but also on occasions where the lyrics disappear from view.
It has been a long wait for a follow-up from Mary Epworth, but Elytral confirms she has not been idle. She has a remarkably tough outer casing, but there are moments of innocent charm too, often within the same song – and this wonderful unpredictability is one of several elements that make her music such compelling listening, even on the fifth listen.
It makes for a record to file under the words ‘striking’ and ‘original’. Elytral may not be an easy record, but it is strangely affirmative and rewarding.