The Art of Subtlety
Don’t confuse Woman’s Hour, a four-piece group of Cumbria natives based in London, with the BBC radio program of the same name. While the band might have lifted their moniker from the radio show, the similarities stop there. Though frontwoman and vocalist Fiona Burgess has a background in drama studies, with Woman’s Hour she channels her acting expertise into the band’s music, crafting swooning, often dreamy electropop with hints of New Wave that has earned comparisons to the likes of The xx and Beach House. On Conversations, the band’s debut album out this week on Secretly Canadian, Woman’s Hour invite listeners to sit and stay a while, and listen.
The album begins with “Unbroken Sequence,” where light synths gradually grow in volume and prominence, filling the space with electric pulses. A few single notes of a soft melody accompany steady percussion and Burgess’s high, breathy vocals, setting the tone for much of the album. The slightly jaunty title track, “Conversations,” follows with a catchy reflective, retro vibe that earned the band a strong following last year upon its preliminary release. “In Stillness We Remain” adds a little energy to the album as well, combining spacey, futuristic synths with bare percussion and sweet, trebly guitars.
Other tracks take on a more solemn, moody demeanor like “To the End,” with its plodding synths and soft snapping accompanying droning duet vocals and ceaselessly repeating melodies that swirl and swoon in a melancholy electro vortex of sound. “To the End” shows off the craft behind Woman’s Hour’s songs; it’s built of layers of subtle synth melodies and small percussion, combined to create a big, rich sound whose sum is far greater than its parts. “Two Sides of You” comes to mind here as well. While it starts minimalistically, with spare effects and Burgess’s delicate vocals wavering into the void, it builds as simple, interweaving guitar and bass melodies come in together, entering into a smooth call-and-response conversation. “Her Ghost” sounds similar, with unintrusive synths, clapping percussion and a light bass, and it’s easy to see why Woman’s Hour has so frequently been compared to The xx.
While some of the band’s music may veer toward the melancholy, they’ve certainly got an understated sense of humor as well. “Our Love Has No Rhythm,” which starts with low vocals murmuring over background synths, adds in clapping percussion and a hooky bassline. Maybe someone in Woman’s Hour is unlucky in love, but the song belies its name with a wily, grooving bass.
Conversations isn’t an album that will blow listeners away with brilliance or bombast. It’s more subtle and unassuming than proclamatory, veiling its artistry in swaths of dreamy synth. But for a debut album, it’s one hell of a start.