She Makes War - ‘Disarm’ (2010)
self released, DD album, £name your price
(also available in one of four physical packages, £15 -£80)
War isn’t the first thing that springs to mind: there’s a lot of female performers out there with a far more aggressive image, but there’s certainly a strength and a sense of resistance in the persona that Laura Kidd articulates through her music as She Makes War. This is dark music, in its way: not gothic, horror tinged dark, nor emotionally indulgent, angsty dark. It’s the darkness in the dusty corners of imperfect relationships; the darkness of everyday, ordinary pain, of the kind that we tend not to mention when we tell our stories, to others or to ourselves. Gloom-pop (as she describes it on her website) is not a bad word for it, but personally I find it a bit strange to call this pop, qualified or otherwise.
Words like ‘rock’ and ‘pop’ have changed their meanings quite dramatically over the years, and they have quite different functions when used to describe genres on the one hand, or stylistic features on the other. If I ask my twelve year old daughter what ‘pop’ means, it’s commercial chart music that isn’t R’n’B (her comment on this album was ‘don’t you find this annoying?’). Once upon a time, pop was music played by guitar bands, and so the word has stuck to certain brands of guitar music, even bizarrely being used by Tim Smith to describe Cardiacs’ sound. What’s the point of this digression? I’m warning you off looking for a genre label that will tell you clearly what sort of sound you get from She Makes War. There isn’t one. The stylistic vocabulary is drawn from rock, or acoustic rock, and the instrumental textures are open and spacious, rather than layered and dense.
This is the work of a solo performer, expanded and garnished in the studio, but with all the arrangements constructed around the live core of a single stringed instrument and a voice: there are some full, layered arrangements, but you can always hear that single main instrumental voice.The consequence of that is that we get an ensemble sound that is perfectly supportive of the material, in the way that a band, with all its egos, rarely is. Even a ‘name’ performer’s backing band is unlikely to sublimate its urge to play, and edit itself so ruthlessly as this. There are heavy, rocked out songs, but the other elements are still minimal, and act as a scaffold for the guitar, which is always the main musical current in which the vocals swim. In Got Milk the heavy guitar riff is supported by a spare electro drum beat, that acts like a clip frame on a photograph, quietly announcing its existence as a token of the attention it directs to its contents.
The songs are sometimes quite conventionally structured, and sometimes more experimental sounding, as in the sequentially gestural Olympian. There is always a good match between form and content; this for me is the mark of effective songwriting. The meaning of the lyrics is in the experience of hearing the melody and harmony, just as much as in the definitions of the words.
The characters in these songs speak from a variety of perspectives, often from within the desolation and inertia of a failed relationship. Their statements are never glib, and the songs are never so naïve as to offer closure. This is not to say they are depressing or hopeless; their scenarios ring true, and real situations are always in flux, always offering the possibility of change for the better or the worse. So Kidd focusses on pain: there’s a lot of pain in life, and in human relationships, and it’s how we know we’re alive. There is something fundamentally life affirming about this music, not in spite of, but because of its clinically unsentimental examination of the inner lives of believably damaged, lonely characters. The scalpel like precision with which a song like Scared To Capsize exposes the mutual accommodations and complicity of a dried out, withered bond, feeding on the fear of being alone, somehow does more honour to human life than it would if it copped out into an uplifting chorus of contrived optimism. And seriously, these songs are melancholy, but they feel a lot lighter than you might think from reading this!
A lot of people write sad songs. It’s easier to achieve an expression of sadness in music than one of joy. Very few people write dark songs of broken love with anything like this maturity, perceptiveness and depth, and still convey a sense of vulnerable youthfulness and optimism. ‘I am/ the sweet defender’ Kidd sings in I Am: it’s a good epithet.