London – With a band name inspired by writer Daphne du Maurier’s affair with actress Gertrude Lawrence, British female duo Eyes For Gertrude bring with it the promise that all might not be quite what it seems. Band mates Hannah Dean and Chantelle Pike appear respectively as ambivalent bride and groom on the cover of their new album, Residential Bliss, lying down incongruously in front of a cement works in Dean’s hometown. This industrial blot on a dismal looking landscape hardly prepares you for what is ultimately a joyful and quirky 10-song collection, not without its dark themes yet always peering upwards and outwards with a wry smile.
The quality of the songwriting quickly strikes home. The album’s opener, “Rag and Bone,” takes its cue from the routines of daily life and resolutely reaches for higher ground, illuminated by delicious vocal flourishes and rousing bluegrass accompaniment. It sets a tone for a record in which the everyday is juxtaposed with a desire to escape the bounds of routine: “I’ve had enough / This house is never clean / We should flee like Thelma and Louise / I’ll get my coat / But first I’ll get the washing in / I’ve heard Mexico is lovely in the spring.” There is similarly dark humour peppered throughout the album.
Vocally the pairing is equally impressive. Hannah Dean’s delicate descant counterpoint to Chantelle Pike’s warmly assured, pitch-perfect lead vocal is a constant feature throughout the record. The two voices manage to enhance as much as complement each other. Pike employs a confident, robust delivery, at times suggesting a latter day Patsy Cline, sugared by deft vocal twists and turns that add a different dimension. Dean harmonises like an extra instrument; a skill that really elevates a song like “Home” which swings along gently until her repeat echoing of the song title appends a surreal synth-like footnote.
Instrumentally the singers are no slouches with Pike majoring on guitar and Dean contributing keyboards and piano accordion. Canadian producer Ben Mink, who has worked with luminaries like kd lang and Feist, has also attached a rare polish to a self-release with his subtle string arrangements acting as an authentic hallmark. Something about the chord progressions and sound inflections in the eloquent “Heaven” suggests that it could be a song from the pen of the late Sandy Denny, doyenne of folk-rock and author of several outstanding solo albums in her post-Fairport days. That it is an Eyes For Gertrude original speaks volumes for the duo’s song craft.
There’s a breadth to the album such that the Beatles-ish “The Boatman” sits comfortably alongside the gypsy tones of “Forgiveness Killed Us” while the infectious confessional of “Messing Around” doesn’t jar with the simple, stark beauty of a song like “Julian.” Themes of decay and human failings explored in both “History” and the closing track, “Empires,” somehow still fit the mood of a record in which the human spirit again and again seeks to escape from daily drudgery.
The songs blend elements of country music and folk-rock yet maintain an overriding pop accessibility. The tunes are memorable, mostly instantly hummable and you quickly sense that this is an album you will come back to again and again. You know, we all have that kind of record in our collection. It may be far too early to call it a classic but Residential Bliss shouts out longevity and I feel sure it is set for a sustained tenure.
Residential Bliss is out now. For more on Eyes for Gertrude, visit the duo’s website or listen on Soundcloud.
Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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