With alumni like Adele, Jessie J, and Katies B, Melua and Nash, you’d be forgiven for assuming anyone attending Croydon’s famed BRIT School now expects nothing less than a catapult into the chart firmament; a surefire path to somewhere near the toppermost of the post-millennial pop mountain.
But for Hannah Rodgers, who enrolled at 16, the path after graduating was quite different. There were support slots for the likes of East India Youth, Glass Animals and Lush, while her first EP as Pixx, 2015’s Fall In, appeared via the hallowed 4AD. “If the music industry is The Simpsons, 4AD is Lisa,” Grimes has said of the label’s aesthetic and long-held reputation; “the cool, intelligent, subversive one”.
Fall In’s icily smart snapshots of romantic frustrations had 20-teens sparkle, but just enough of the buttons marked ‘ethereal’ and ‘silvery shimmer’ to suit her stable; Rodgers’ appeared to be an arrival perfectly timed for the revival of interest in all things dream-popping and shoegazing. Two singles between then and now only heightened expectations. Grip was widescreen, worldly pop balancing a tense, brittle verse and a soothing rush of a chorus, while the calm blue wash of Baboo was her best yet – woozily enraptured and dubby but indubitably pop. Both feature on The Age of Anxiety, a debut which often – but not always – makes good on their promise.
Starting strongly, I Bow Down rattles with a relentless, forward motion, setting out the album’s stall both in subject – “To put a name on it, would be to nail the age of anxiety” – and style, with arpeggiated synths which feel concurrently retro and very now. Similarly, the angsty Telescreen, channelling millennial ennui and determination (“We can not divide”), shimmers with echoing, chorus-laden guitar, part Cocteau Twins or Siouxsie and the Banshees, but packs a contemporary wallop of deep bass. Waterslides, an amusement standing here for fitful and restless dreams is a rush of awkward pop, sharing something of Shura‘s ’80s sheen, while A Big Cloud To Float Upon (“I climb up from darkness to find a home”) is edgily, appealingly atmospheric.
Too often, though, The Age Of Anxiety seems over-anxious to please, and some of the songs suffer under a mishmash of competing styles and sounds. Toes and Your Delight are pleasant enough, the former sporting Dubstar-esque touches, but Romance and The Girls are slightly muddled. Everything Is Weird In America, meanwhile, follows Telescreen and shares its disbelief at the state of the world, but veers into rather self-consciously kooky territory.
Baboo is as lovely as ever though, while the closing Mood Ring Eyes, built on a gentle collage of sounds and textures, and over just a moment too soon, balances the competing elements of off-kilter pop, shoegaze and contemporary savvy perfectly. Essentially, there’s enough good stuff here to suggest Pixx – cool, intelligent, subversive – remains a talent worth watching. And you can’t learn that anywhere.