Testimony to this was found on her 2006 debut Cheap Demo Bad Science although it wasn’t until the follow-up, Change Is Good, Change Is Good (never a more apt title) that her experimentation began to engender success. The latter album’s expansive musical scope was high and part the doings of the studio scoundrel who stole her harp during a recording session.
Maybe the culprit should have been included in the album’s credits as they played a crucial role in ushering Steer towards what turned out to be a sublime second album. Despite failing to garner as much of a following as it should have one particular fan certainly had a hand in the album receiving some of the recognition it so rightly deserved. Said fan was Mr Bendy Hips himself, Jarvis Cocker, who crowned Change Is Good, Change Is Good his favourite album of 2010. So much did he fall for Steer that he has now taken over both production and collaborator duties for her latest album, The Moths Are Real.
Steer’s latest release finds her in bed with more than just Pulp’s ex-frontman, with collaborations from the likes of Pulp’s Steve Mackey, Capital K and The Flying Lizards’ David Cunningham. Before judging the album by its credits, this should by no means be considered a duets album, as it is clear that Steer and Cocker have put all their efforts into creating something singular with the collaborations added to expansive effect.
The Moths Are Real couldn’t portray more Englishness even if it tried and Steer is clearly proud of doing so. Her anecdotal phraseology and lyrical content spice up each and every track as she coins Cockeresque common people lingo (the use of “my arse” on The Removal Man a fine example). Lyrics apart, Steer’s clearly classically nurtured vocals provide perfect narration for these tales atop a vast ranging soundtrack with vintage folk accompanied with all manner of string instruments on Night Before Mutiny or medieval mysticism on Island Odessy. Steer is often knocked for keeping everything far too lo-fi but there really is no knocking her diverse classical training, which speaks in tongues here. There’s the vibrant medieval Lady Fortune, the aforementioned haunting, Pulp Fire Records era The Removal Man and the unimaginable on paper but beautiful on CD blend of trippy beats and medieval strings on Machine Room.
And Steer’s experimentation doesn’t stop there. Although maybe unnoticeable at first, some soundscapes used will have you pressing rewind. It’s these kind of small yet welcome additions that make Steer stand out from the crowd. Her use of day to day sounds makes The Moths Are Real spring to life. The hustle and bustle of city streets enveloping Ballad Of Brick Lane or the clock tower chimes on The Removal Man complement her story telling.
Serafina Steer’s career may have seen an upturn as a result of a certain harp thief pointing her in the right direction but, with the difficult third album, having Mr Cocker in her camp has resulted in something unique. What may at first come across as a bottled up effort does in fact reveal astounding complexity on repeated listening. As a byproduct of this, The Moths Are Real is the kind of album that warrants attention to fine detail. Here’s hoping it serves as a catalyst to instill the same kind of approach from other artists, both established and yet to be discovered.