Having been knocking around the Manchester scene with her guitar and drum machine in tow for the last five years or so, Julie Campbell aka Lonelady has finally hit paydirt with a debut album release on the esteemed Warp Records.
A few years ago a signing like Lonelady would have raised eyebrows to the notoriously electronica-focused label. With the success of Battles and Maximo Park for starters, the label has been expanding its template considerably so these days the post-punk chops of Lonelady don’t seem out of place.
Nerve Up is an odd album from the get go. It manages to intrigue immediately thanks to Campbell’s instantly distinctive voice. It’s as if Campbell is channelling her years of listening to singular female singers of the last 30 years. Her timbre is reminiscent of so many that it’s damn near impossible to pinpoint who she most sounds like. At times she flits from Patti Smith to Alanis Morrisette to Chrissie Hynde to Bat for Lashes to Dolores O’ Riordan yet managing to avoid pure pastiche.
Musically, this is Manchester in monochrome. The reverb-heavy drum machine gives the arrangements an industrial cold feel, harking back to the likes of Magazine, Wire, ’80s post-punk and new wave in general. This mechanical backing is aided by Campbell’s frantic guitar delivery, played as if she’s running out of studio tape. The sound of the record is certainly consistent with an album that was recorded in a dilapidated mill, as if the walls were about to crumble down at any moment.
If it all sounds a bit austere, worry not. There are superb tunes here. The combination of an her agitated guitar work and her unique voice produce some great songs; namely the singles ‘Intuition’, the pop licks of ‘Immaterial’ and the Natasha Khan-esque ‘Marble’.
Combined, the album indicates that Lonelady is a singular figure herself. Campbell has forged her own sound in an increasingly uniform world of modern music through repetition and a strict lack of instrumental embellishments. As a result, Nerve Up is refreshing, enigmatic, rabid, nostalgic and something new all at once.