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Charlotte Church
THREE Laurie Tuffrey , September 13th, 2013 10:03

With the first two records of her five-EP series down, the latest installment, THREE, feels like the moment Charlotte Church has begun to carve out her own niche in earnest. As the product of distilling down her eclectic music tastes and tinkering and re-tinkering in her home studio with her band and producer Gethin John, THREE reveals this voice to be increasingly self-assured, sonically diverse, and, unexpectedly, brilliantly nuts.

She trailed the record with ‘I Can Dream’, an astonishing track that takes a further spin on 2013’s nascent genre of choice, prog rock meets R&B (/prog’n’B/D[ungeons]&D[ragons] R&B, you know the type o’ thing). In just shy of four minutes it covers some head-spinning terrain, going from rimy shards of keyboard, Björk-like vocal angularity and strokes of guitar that would have Wild Beasts hooting in delight, to nut job, octave-leaping splays of fretboard shredding and schizoid drumming. That she then adds in a spaced-out R&B passage, a vocal harmony phalanx underpinned by synthy bass and perfectly tinny 808 snare strikes, almost takes the piss. There are few who’d think that the best elements of The Dismemberment Plan and The Mars Volta would work together (or even bother having a crack at making them do so), but what Church pulls together is a cut of ear-warping excellence and one that couldn’t exist without hours of cherry-picking, listening sessions and painstaking trial and error.

Nothing else on THREE quite matches 'I Can Dream' for sheer, knocked-sideways brilliance or masterfully overt wrangling of styles, but then that'd be a hard task for anyone. Instead, the record is a leap forward, using the previous EPs as launch pads. The melodic indie of ONE forms the basis for 'Like A Fool', an expansive rocker, which fills out its five-minute-plus length by conjuring soaring, glacial choruses with sparing vocals from Church. Here, as across the whole EP, she wears the song more lightly than on previous work, letting the tracks unfurl and revelling in the space that affords to her voice.

There are echoes of Jeff Buckley in 'Magician's Assistant', more the thornier abstractions of My Sweetheart The Drunk than the smoother-edged clout of Grace, particularly the poised emotion and melisma of the vocal lines, while 'Water Tower' cuts away the woolier edges of Bon Iver's second album, heightening the propulsive crash of her band with overlaid saxophone, to form a protective, heartfelt ballad of a closer.

But it's perhaps the more unexpected moments of the EP that come out on top. There's an ace wallop of 80s rock pomp that crashes in halfway through opening track 'Sparrow', a blindsider considering that, up till then, it had been delicately-wrought arpeggios and heartbeart-stutter Usher-esque drum thumps. Following that, 'Remains' refracts her classical background, starting with a wash of choral voices, but, dissembled through cut and paste arrangement, forms something jagged and serpentine, a dark-hued extended intro to 'Like A Fool', while 'Magician's Assistant' throws in, way, way out of leftfield, a serrated-edge jazz fusion guitar solo, wailing over skronks of sax.

Moreover, the EP's a deft choice of format for Church: there's something excitingly unsettled about her style at the moment, which makes the shorter-players, hung more focally around individual tracks and embracing progress in flux, the ideal format. Volatile and inventive, not only does it leave us wondering about FOUR and FIVE, but teases at a longer work, and suggests that, whenever it comes, it'll be marked by a luminous, sparking unpredictability.

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