On her fourth album Poppy Ackroyd wanted to create something that could be entirely performed with just two hands on a piano. Ackroyd used extended technique during the recording process. This meant that some sounds came from inside the piano while others were from conventional playing techniques. This might seem like a weird thing to want to do but considering that her previous albums were created on computers, editing and manipulating, then playing. Part of this was down to Ackroyd becoming a mum for the first time, and not having the time to edit her recordings. Listening to ‘Pause’, the resulting album, it’s hard to imagine that Ackroyd created music any other way.
The album starts with ‘Seedling’. Immediately we are welcomed with captivating melodies filled with optimism. Ackroyd’s playing precise but with sense of fun seldom heard in her work. You can almost see the smile on her face as she plays. ‘Suspended’ follows suit. It is slightly less aerobic that the opening but no less pleasurable. At its heart ‘Pause’ is filled with home, love and joy. The album was written shortly after Ackroyd gave birth to her first child. When you have a child everything you once knew is put on, well, pause for a bit. Going to the pub, gigs, or even work, lose their importance. This feeling eventually fades away, sadly, and the normality of life returns with a vengeance, but for a short period of time everything is on hold. These themes constantly repeat through the album. Titles like ‘Suspended’, ‘Pause’, ‘Murmurations’ and ‘Muted’ tell us everything we need to know. Then the music starts, and life pauses around us, as we are gently pulled in to the serene, but complex, world that Ackroyd has created.
There is something exquisite about ‘Pause’. It is Ackroyd’s strongest album to date. It builds on her previous release, and then some! Ackroyd’s playing is delicate, powerful, sophisticated, haunting and a load of other words that contradict each other, but combined paint a picture of a composite artist. There is something free yet constrained about Ackroyd’s playing. It reminds me of watching Dennis Bergkamp play football. You have no idea what he was going to do next, yet you knew he was confined to the dimensions of the football pitch, ‘Pause’ is the same. From moment to moment, you never quite know where the songs are going to go, but you have an idea. ‘Flutter’ starts with open motifs. They are huge, brave and compelling. Yet there is a fragility to it that underpins the song. Around a third in the tone changes and you half expect everything to rise up to a crescendo, but instead Ackroyd takes things down a bit. New motifs are added, and the song has a totally different feeling. Its wonderful. Much like watching a butterfly glide past you on a summer day, you have to give it all of your attention or you feel like you’ve missed out on something.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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