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Emma Anderson – Pearlies (Sonic Cathedral)

18 October 2023

Lush fans have had a tough go. They’ve watched their band triumphantly rise in the 90s from obscurity to Thames Valley dreampop/shoegaze royalty, culminating in the band’s album swansong, “Lovelife” (1996, 4AD), only to have the rug taken away so painfully after drummer, Chris Acland, committed suicide suddenly in the fall of that year.

Remaining members, Emma Anderson, Phil King, and Miki Berenyi, understandably dispersed in the wake of that tragedy, and it would take 20 years (!) for them to reunite, tour, and release the lovely ”Blind Spot” EP (2016, Edamame). The timing was perfect, as bands like Slowdive and Ride were also touring and enjoying their biggest audiences and adoration ever in the UK, US, and elsewhere.

”Blind Spot” featured four tracks and Lush were cover stars on Issue 79 (Fall 2016) of ”The Big Takeover”, a full 22 years after their first cover from Issue 36. The buoyant interview with Emma, Miki, and Phil spread over Issue 79 and Issue 80 and is an enjoyable read as the bandmates seemed thrilled to be back in action.

But just as momentum was building, Lush released a statement saying King had “departed” (for unexplained reasons) resulting in cancelled festival appearances and the need for a fill-in bassist for a farewell show at Manchester Academy a month later.

The reunion’s stuttering push/pull no doubt hurt fans as well as Emma and Miki, who each went off on their own to pursue other activities. Simon Raymonde’s Bella Union label put out Miki’s worthy Piroshka band project including 2019’s ”Brickbat” and 2021’s ” Love Drips and Gathers” and she’s also written a memoir, “Fingers Crossed” (2022, Nine Eight Books).

Going back to 2016, Emma had been building up an arsenal of songs and song pieces. First, she wrote for the Lush 2.0 album that never materialized. She wasn’t looking to form a band, per se, but rather assemble an LP with her songwriting and guitars with a key collaborator or two. She worked with cellist, Audrey Riley on what she thought might be TV or film music. [Aha! You can really hear this in the spidery, meandering, and emotive melodic phrases that abound on this record.]

In the end, Emma’s key collaborator materialized in electronic music whiz, James Chapman of Maps. With his prodigious studio skills and encyclopedic music knowledge, he and Emma worked in fresh Northamptonshire air, where the album was lovingly produced, mixed, and engineered. Recording took place at “Maps HQ, Northamptonshire, 4AD Studio, London and Cubelles Studio, East Sussex, August 2022 – March 2023”.

Lucky for us, Audrey and another important person in this puzzle, Robin Guthrie, convinced Emma to not just write an album but sing on it as well. “Pearlies” features Emma singing and backing herself while playing guitars. James contributed keyboards, arrangements, and writing credits throughout, and the record features Suede’s Richard Oakes on guitars on four tracks.

With “Pearlies”, three tracks have been released already, and Jack has played the superb LP closer and very Lush-like “Clusters” on his show. The record comes at a good time, as “Lovelife” was just remastered and released in August.

Though Lush could readily channel dense, hard, and dark music, “Pearlies” reflects Emma’s evolution and maturity. Her time in Sing-Sing (the band, not the New York prison!) saw her branch out in poppier directions, and the new music is often surprisingly lithe and gentle. “Taste The Air” and “Willow And Mallow” are great examples of psych-folk, pulling in Nick Drake through a dreampop lens.

These tracks feature Emma’s tender vocals, with just the right mix of acoustic guitars, keyboards, and restrained percussion that add to a feeling of innocence and purity. Lyrically, they often paint a different picture. The loungey “Bend The Round” begins with Emma singing “Children playing with fire and ice | Not aware that they’re fed with lies | Falling over when reason dies.” Hardly a sing-along pop confection.

And “Pearlies” has a spunkiness too. Though drums and percussion are light and more a background accompaniment, up-tempo passages like those in “Clusters” keep engaging, with hooky melodies that will stick in your brain long after. For Lush fans, “Tonight Is Mine” would fit neatly in that universe, as would “The Presence”; a track Emma says she re-worked obsessively for years before finding the song’s solution in a flash with James’ input.

There’s a wonderful succession of side A LP tracks (3, 4, and 5). “Inter Light”, “Taste The Air”, and “Xanthe” are filled with spooky (no, not the Lush LP!) piano and organ bits that would sit perfectly in a Tim Burton film (stand aside, Danny Elfman). I hear the influence of Stereolab, too, and other tracks including the outstanding opener, “I Was Miles Away” and the closing “Clusters” single also feature synths set to “haunted 60s space-age”.