Ahhh, the review of a woman artist’s first work after giving birth. How is she juggling motherhood with her work? Has it shaped her creatively? Gross, right? But, try as we might, it’s impossible to ignore Polly Scattergood’s new status as a mum, because it’s the very life force of her new record.
In This Moment is Scattergood’s first album for seven years. In that time she collaborated on a project with Maps as onDeadWaves before escaping London to live in the desert of Fuerteventura: “I wanted to drop off the planet for a while. I wanted to start again. And disappear.”
Now back in the UK, living on the Kent coast, she’s mum to a baby girl, and recorded the album that would announce her return in her home studio with her partner while their daughter slept.
That biography is essential context to understand the shift in her sound. Her early releases in the mid-naughties, on Mute, were manic pixie dream girl anthems. Kooky and ethereal, she sounded and looked like a 21st century, electro Kate Bush. I Hate The Way, Nitrogen Pink, Other Too Endless and Please Don’t Touch were brilliant singles with a dark intensity that stood out against the indie guitars of the day. The follow-ups that formed 2013’s Arrows unpicked her interest in electronic sounds, which segued into onDeadWaves.
With In This Moment she’s packed all this experience and mixed it perfectly with her time abroad and new life as a parent. It’s like a musical biography, bringing all of her into one really intense but compulsively listenable record.
She’s shaken off the wide-eyed, kooky vocals. She still sings in urgent, hushed tones, but the record’s luscious backdrops give her more of a stirring, Nick Cave feel. Take opening track Red, all dramatic and complex, with brooding instrumentals and a hammering piano, just begging to be performed on a festival stage: “If red is the colour of conviction and red is the opposite of numb, I see red.”
There are countless references to nature and new life, but Bloom contains perhaps her most obvious references to motherhood. Like a whispered nursery rhyme during a late night rain storm, she promises “You are my greatest ever high, a miracle existence, an entire solar system.” It’s a beautiful, frantic, deleterious, brain fuddled rush of love, and utterly gorgeous with it.
Likewise, The End Was Glorious is a simple, warm love song with clever percussion. Throughout she experiments with background sounds such as fluttering, water, twinkling; sounds that are electronic, but at the same time feel organic and natural. Each song paints vivid pictures. Sometimes her lyrics help you along, with the best nudging you to draw your own stories and conclusions.
The album’s title track is a haunting description of sitting in a hospital waiting room, and the anxiety and grief that can go with that. Her voice wavers as she gives us a hint as to the song’s subject: “In front of me is an abstract picture of a woman holding a small child. Clearly someone did not think this through…”
On this welcome comeback, each song provides a glimpse into the last few years that have had such a profound impact on Scattergood, yet are expansive enough to be universal. Dark, complex and visual yet full of love, light and ideas, In This Moment is a record to fall in love with over long summer nights.