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Tender Prey
Organ Calzone Joe Banks , May 11th, 2015 10:19

Tender Prey is Laura Bryon, a Cardiff-based singer songwriter who's previously recorded in an anti-folk vein under the name of Le B. Having taken a few years out from music, she's now returned to the fray with a collection of dark, gnarly songs (released on Jane Weaver's Bird Records) that mine a seam of stripped bare, minimal blues rock. But there's a lot more to Organ Calzone than the type of howling-at-the-moon 'authenticity' such a descriptor conjures up, thanks to Bryon's knack for layering vivid melodies over the starkest of arrangements.

Opening track 'Bug Blood' is a case in point. It's a simple, mono chordal thump of drums, bass and guitar, the slow burn of an amplified heartbeat. But as soon as Byron delivers the lines, "The day has had its way with me, but oh, the night is mine…" in a voice that's rich and allusive, the song comes alive with a playful intensity that carries on through the whole album. As it builds to a climax, she fills the space up with overlapping, increasingly frantic lines before ending on a whoop of triumph.

Bryon's words throughout are woozily self-aware, even mocking in tone, channelling the ecstatic highs and crashing lows of both the night before and the morning after. In fact, many of the songs here feel like they've been written under the manic pall of a perpetual hangover. She makes the connection plain on 'The Tequila Worm', the bent notes of its skeletal riff suggesting alcohol's consensual derangement of the senses.  She starts off "safe in the empties", before concluding "we drink to forget, we drink to dance, we drink to forget again."

But for all that, the album never descends into mopey, woe-is-me introspection. 'Undisputed Heavyweight Champion Of My Heart' is a rollicking gothic melodrama, not a million miles from Nick Cave circa Tender Prey itself. 'Pleasure Pain Principle' is another upbeat garage rocker, complete with buzzsaw guitar and sideshow organ, and also illustrates Bryon's habit of veering off at unexpected tangents, with a bombastic middle eight that's a dead ringer for Van Der Graaf Generator. Similarly, the folky stylings of 'Velvetine' suddenly segue into a terrific coda of heads-down boogie.

Talking of which, there's more than a hint of early Quo in the dry blues chug of 'Blood Simple' – which morphs into a sinister passage of Slint-esque guitar and wordless ululations – and the primordial, unadorned psych rock of 'Hold Me Down', with its sweetly threatening vocal.

The final brace of tracks reaffirms Bryon's core strengths: 'Night Talking' is a medieval courtship ballad updated – "You asked for a gesture, I wanted to fuck" – where Byron creates her own angelic backing choir, highlighting again her gift for an affecting melody; 'Gravy Plate' returns her to singing over a simple beat before delivering a marvellous minor key chorus which soars almost in spite of itself.

While the PJ Harvey of To Bring You My Love is certainly a useful reference point here, and Bryon herself cites girl groups from the Shangri-Las to The Slits as influential, Organ Calzone stands firmly on its own merits. Packed with great hooks and teasing details, this is one of the most assured and compelling debuts I've heard in a long time.

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