What Is Life
, December 1st, 2016 14:55
In the 1910 novel Howard's End, EM Forster suggested his own solution to the question of what is life. "Only connect," he wrote, meaning not only that we should connect the dots of our personalities and stop suppressing our buried desires, but also that we should connect with each other as people rather than remain isolated as individuals, nations, social groupings and so on. This exhortation, to find the others and live in fragments no longer, could as well serve as the motto for Bloom's debut LP.
The Brighton-based experimental pop band, fronted by singers, songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Emily Cluley and Megan Clifton, have created an intelligent pop record that is both accessible and adventurous. It's clear that the young five-piece know and love pop history but want to add to it rather than just pay homage, and are determined to stretch the format and expand its possibilities while keeping the results consistently tuneful, catchy and to the point.
It's frontloaded with at least three potential hits. 'Such A Shame' is all tension and restraint, breaking out in passionate impatience on the chorus while darting dragonfly-like around a quirky, oddly-angled melodic path. 'Shout' is also all about the dynamics, pairing low-key verses with big explosive choruses like a pop Pixies or a Nutella Nirvana, while the shivery, melancholy-yet-uplifting arrangements recall Strawberry Switchblade or mid-eighties Fleetwood Mac. Tight vocal harmonies dissolve like snowflakes on glass in a song about self-expression and giving yourself permission to speak out: "Never knew that I could shout before, always bite my tongue." 'Not Enough' foregrounds the Chimurenga influences that are a subtle yet important factor throughout the LP, with a great popping guitar riff and skipping rhythms, before a burst of discordant, MBV-like dream noise fills the middle eight so unexpectedly that your brain almost refuses to believe that it happened at all.
It's one of several break-up songs on the record where the shimmering, sparkly surface barely masks the brutal desperation beneath, which in turn gives way to a steely core of strength and determined optimism. In fact it's the less immediate numbers on What Is Life that may become the most loved: these are songs that could save your life, as suited for the teenage bedroom as the club dancefloor, for still, quiet moments of introspection as well as communal celebrations. Songs like 'Try' and 'Nothing' will be listened to over and over on headphones as they become your best friends, convincing you that someone else really does understand. The fact that Emily and Megan have shared an intense friendship since childhood is essential to their work; at times it's as though they're singing to each other, to support each other, yet their voices are so interwoven that there's no division between the two. The result is a powerful female-to-female energy that isn't about excluding boys, or even really about gender, but about connection and communication, intimacy and encouragement. So many of the songs on What Is Life are about reaching out- for help, or just to be heard, or to be empowered and escape a self-critical, self-destructive isolation.
"Now that we're all grown you think you're left with nothing," they sing to each other on 'Something' before a double-time middle eight explodes into ecstatic dancing. On the truly experimental 'Tiny' an unusual, folk-like vocal melody builds into astral space-pop worthy of Bjork, or at least the most ethereal moments of Buckingham-Nicks. 'Focus' reflects the tension between speaking out and giving someone space in cleverly arranged harmonies, a toytown keyboard riff and a great bopping, diving and surging bassline. And finally, on the glorious five-minute closing track 'Letting Go', all of the different elements of Bloom's music come together: an 'Enola Gay' synth riff nestling next to Laurel Canyon harmonies, African polyrhythms colliding with Southern English sass, a hint of shoegaze, futurism and Todd Rundgren-sized ambition. "Letting go, are you near, choosing love over fear," the chorus asks, wide open to the universe. Feather-light but able to carry the weight of a fragmenting world, What Is Life gently offers us the hope we need in darkening times. Choose love over fear. Only connect.