Written across several locations in Brighton, and then recorded in a set of diverse locations (fishing boats, tap-dancing clubs), Beautifully Astray marks the startling debut for Abi Wade – another fine talent to spring from the deep well of Love Thy Neighbour. It is a haunting piece of work that casts its eye over the wide spectrum of human nature, all the while showing a true mastery of the use of space and silence amongst a wider world of noise.
Opener ‘A Bit Like Love’ sets the tone for what is to follow with its simple and stark piano intro perfectly matched with a melancholy lyrical mood (“I know it’s what we wanted, but it doesn’t feel a bit like love to me”). Slowly swelling strings combine with a beat that verges on militaristic, before the song grows and soars in what is a supremely impressive and haunting beginning to Beautifully Astray. As with the following ‘Reasonable Doubt’, there is a clear connection between Wade’s style and her former tour-mate Patrick Wolf’s early work – both are able to construct a deep and hypnotic mood with the minimum of instrumentation, and Wade shows the same unerring ability to inject pace with subtle and glitchy electronics.
That mixture of space, silence and sudden electronic beats makes for a heady concoction. The brooding synth hum of ‘Laws And Mankind’ are interspersed with a simple cello rhythm, slowly building up a head of steam. It feels like music designed to be listened to in a natural environment, an album that emerges from out of a ghostly fog deep in the woods. Fans of Loma’s recent self-titled record will find a lot to love here, as it possesses the same atmospheric and evocative ambience. ‘Hawk In Your Side’ exquisitely captures the small details of a breakdown of a relationship (“You read aloud when I want silence”) while hinting at a deeper malaise. Her vocals are at points used as percussion, while her singing style equally has the effect of pulling listeners in closer to the music, attempting to understand the full context of her lyrics.
Subtle elements are added throughout such as the choral effect to the chorus of ‘Lucia’, a detail that is so slight yet one that adds so much texture to the sound. Wade shows a clever lightness of touch, and Beautifully Astray seems to ultimately point towards the arrival of a major new talent in folktronica. Towards the end, the album subtly shifts into something more obviously electro-based. ‘Gold Abyss’, from where the record gains its title, skirts on the edge of a big club beat at its very end before pausing, as if unsure whether to take that final plunge. ‘Obsession’ bumps along on a skittering, glitchy beat but the best is saved for last with ‘We Are In Sight’. Waves gently ripple in at this gorgeous album closer, with vocals lengthened and distorted slightly, giving the impression of being on a boat slowly drifting towards a beautiful sunset. And that is the best summation of Beautifully Astray, a truly gorgeous and mesmerising piece of work from an exciting new talent.