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The Metallic Index Will Salmon , November 8th, 2022 10:16

Jane Weavers experimental ensemble plays hauting paeans to the electric girl of the 1920s

Consider Stella Cranshaw, the so-called ‘electric girl’. She was twenty-three when the famous psychic researcher Harry Price met her, by chance, on a train. Price encountered many fraudulent mediums in the course of his work as Britain’s foremost paranormal investigator of the 1920s, but something about this unassuming nurse, who showed little interest in the weird, was compelling. The phenomena that surrounded her – sudden breezes, strange sounds, blue electrical sparks, even floating objects – was enough to convince the jaded Price that there was something truly mysterious about her.

‘Stella C’, as she became known, is the inspiration for this second album from Fenella. The Jane Weaver-led trio (with Peter Philipson and Raz Ullah) made their debut in 2019 with an unofficial soundtrack to the Hungarian animated film Fehérlófia (‘Son of the White Mare’). Where that had a glacial ambient drift, all icy textures and brooding soundscapes, it was still very much anchored to Weaver's vocals. It may have been slower-paced and more abstracted than her pop-focussed solo work, but you wouldn't have been too surprised had it come out under her own name.

The Metallic Index is altogether different. Though a few of the tracks here are embellished with Weaver’s alternately haunted and wistful sighs, it’s only with the last track that she sings. Instead, this feels highly indebted to the countless prog and kosmiche LPs that no doubt fill the trio’s record collections.

Roedelius is a likely touchstone on a few of the tracks here, particularly the opening ‘Pulsion (Girl On Train)’, where glittering synth structures form and collapse against a backdrop of wordless gasps. New Age duo Emerald Web (whose home tape music was reissued by Weaver’s former label, Finders Keepers) are perhaps a more direct comparison, particularly on ‘Hexagonal Table’, its pitch-bent synth lines conjuring a mood that’s both soothingly pastoral and deeply uncanny. Elsewhere there are echoes from Weaver’s own past, the whole project sitting close to her ambient folk record, The Watchbird Alluminate, or the subdued tones of the Intiaani Kesä EP.

At the same time, this isn’t simply an exercise in pastiche or excavating the past. Instead, it presents a suitably enchanting (and at just thirty-three minutes, bracingly concise) expansion of the musical paths that Weaver has followed over the last twelve years, ever since The Fallen By Watch Bird reinvented her as a sonic explorer as well as a folk singer. The title track and ‘Stella In Spectra’ have a head-nodding propulsion, while ‘Telekinetoscopes’ thrums with so much electricity you can practically feel the blue sparks flying off it.

While most of The Metallic Index operates in a shadowy, crepuscular world, final track, ‘Are You ... (The Final Chord)’ offers a break in the clouds. Over a simple, lovely guitar melody, Weaver sings, seemingly from Stella’s point of view. It’s the most straightforward piece on the record, but like the album’s protagonist, there’s just a hint of the strange about it. As the song comes to its close, the guitar flickers unexpectedly out of phase. It’s a sudden moment of psychedelic beauty that, like an apparition or perhaps some of the phenomena that supposedly surrounded the electric girl, emerges fleetingly from nowhere before vanishing once more into the ether.