This article was first published on Louder Than War on 30 March 2013.
Erica Nockalls – Imminent Room (Independent Records Ltd)
CD / DL
Released 1 April 2013
The debut album from Conservatoire-trained Erica Nockalls – probably best known for playing violin with The Wonder Stuff – is a fantastic mix of dark pop and classical flourishes.
Boredom leads to wonderous things. It leads, often, to creativity and many a happy accidental discovery has come from idle curiosity. In this case, Erica Nockalls’ frustration with a lack of music she actually wanted to hear has lead to the creation of her own debut; a brilliantly dark pop album.
From opener Manikin the off-kilter discordant layers of sound are a beckoning finger, inviting you to peer through the looking glass. It’s delicious, and dirty in more ways than one, but it shimmies seductively downwards with a great big grin on its face.
There are quirks aplenty and effects scattered generously but it never feels uncontrolled, more free from expectation. This is an album packed with personality, distinctive and varied, thoughtful and fun. Nockalls cites the album as coming from growing up listening to Pet Shop Boys, Vivaldi and Marilyn Manson and all those influences, and more, can be felt in the melodic shadows while this remains very much Erica’s world.
There are a few featured artists through the album too but their influence is not overbearing. There is very much a sense that they are there because they were wanted rather than needed. Carcass’ Jeff Walker, The Mission’s Wayne Hussey and Mark Gemini-Thwaite, Fuzz Townsend, as well as some acoustic guitar playing from her The Wonder Stuff partner Miles Hunt; they all add their own musicianship to the record all co-produced by Nockalls and George Taylor. A glossy and glamourous sound with a dark undertown and musical depths mapped out so precisely, and vividly, by the creator.
This might have a dirtier sound, a darker hue than the flaccid, bulk produced pop that blights the mainstream but it does what really great pop should do. It explores complex connections while shimmering on the surface. These are the sort of tracks that make you want to knock back a shot and head for the dancefloor, or offer comfort when it all catches up the next day.
And it is a broader world that Nockalls let’s us explore with her than the straight love story at the centre of so many songs. Throughout the album many facets of relationships are explored; desire, friendship, love, understanding and acceptance of self. It’s a welcome view of the wider human condition than just writing about love within a couple whether than love be sought, gained or lost.
Lyrically, as well as musically, this is an album on which Nockalls has been honest in those explorations. It doesn’t feel like reluctant soul-bearing but genuine reflection which is shared through song, rather than intruded upon by listener.
There are a number of stomping tracks; Neon Crucifix starts with a playful flighty interlude before changing direction and pulsing with bluesy twangs and skittering riffs beneath the sneer of words.
Single Cut Them Out brings in tight handclap percussion and more of that distinctive violin playing, this time spiralling with all the anger and resolution of endings reflected in the lyrics. There is some almost clumsy phrasing but even this works within the context of the song.
I Am Me, This Is Now is a fine example of strong voice, heady vocals and a middle eight chase between violin and guitar that makes you appreciate both the level of skill on record here as well as wonder why this coupling of instruments isn’t more common in popular composition.
But it’s not all heavy sounds, there is great pop production at play on softer sounding songs like One More Forest. It brings very much to mind her influence of the Pet Shop Boys and in the layers and hazy warmth of It’s Killer, Darling and Goodbye Spider the overlooked endurance of Alisha’s Attic and more recently Nicola Roberts’ production pairings. It is Nockalls’ singular approach to creativity and the high level of musicianship, and indeed experience, that add an extra appeal.
Overall this is a pleasure of an album. That void of new music she wanted to hear and the resultant creativity is an indulgence we can all benefit from.
All words by Sarah Lay.