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Lianne Hall
Energy Flashback Johny Lamb , July 27th, 2022 08:48

A folk album about raving proves just the ticket for Johny Lamb

Lianne Hall has been around for a fair while. Quietly making some of the most beautiful songs you could wish to hear. She has been in my occasional orbit for nearly twenty years, as performer, promoter, caretaker of Brighton’s West Hill Hall (which resulted in a run of exceptional gigs), and maker of some cherished albums (2010’s Crossing Wires remains a firm favourite). Stylistically, Hall is at once easy to listen to and hard to define. I think there is always an echo of country music in what she is doing, but also that graceful ‘songwriter’ gene that one might find in Carole King or Paul Williams. But that said, her methods are distinctly wonky. This may not be correct, but it always feels like she is adopting technology early, but using it strangely, wonkily and the result is a sort of pop country that is stuck through with anachronism, and with incongruous but delightful electronics. It is precisely these elements that make this new album work so well.

Energy Flashback is a document of youth, from early teenage experience in the 80s through to should-know-better adulthood in the 00s. It is a confession of the rave generation. A snapshot of key moments of joy, anxiety, trouble, love, and beats. It sounds completely natural, but when you stop to consider what is really happening, the prospect of a Glen Campbell-type melody, propped up by wobbly polysynth being ravaged by stop-start Amen breaks is almost perverse (find this on ‘They Wanna Fight We Wanna Dance’). Yet it’s great. There are crowd noise field recordings, dub delays, references to 909s and 303s, and particular sound systems. It’s almost like reading a book, but the font is Hall’s voice. The purest and most delicate English voice you could imagine. Her voice has an abundance of high frequency breath noise that envelopes the notes and somehow implies conspiratorial intimacy.

The arrangements on this album, true to her style, are consistently interesting. Troubled string parts set against wide triangle wave bass lines, messy breaks, delicate pianos. There’s a strange urgency to this record though, which as a piece of memoir is sort of surprising. Consider ‘Circle of Wagons’ here with its underscoring of fast kick drum and arching distortion. This approach lifts the album from nostalgia – or even autobiography – and brings it to the place of document. These decades were turbulent and the electronic music scene that ran through them was highly politicised, which Hall gets across very well indeed, while still supplying the hazy memories of friendship and generosity that it also embodied. She even manages to pull off an Alabama 3 cover without a gear change.

Hall has a great generosity as a song writer, and the ‘we’ has always been a significant element of her practice, which remains at odds with the solipsistic approach of many autobiographical songwriters, where the ‘I’ voice retains a primacy in pop music. I think this is one of the most attractive aspects of her work and this sense of ‘we’ runs thickly through this record and finds a sweet conclusion on ‘Late Nights Talking’. Lianne Hall remains for me one of the most interesting DIY artists we have, and each new project brings something wonderful and complex into focus. Hers are records that you didn’t realise you needed, until you heard them. Energy Flashback is no different. You do need it. And you will be thankful when you have it.