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LoneLady - Nerve Up

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Artist: LoneLady

Album: Nerve Up

Label: Warp

Review date: Feb. 23, 2010

LoneLady is a DIY bedroom-pop project by Manchester’s Julie Campbell. Nerve Up, her debut on the Warp, is far from what you’d expect from the adventurous label: neither avant, nor electronic, she is, possibly, the most inchoate artist on the roster.

The former Mancurian fine arts student has experience playing in bands, but prefers playing alone, spending hours tinkering with her keyboard and telecaster. Her stock and trade is made up of Factory Records back catalog, Pink Flag (minus the rough edges) and some estrogen overtones reminiscent of PJ Harvey and Grace Jones. There’s also the early R.E.M. influence, exemplified by lead single “Immaterial” — a serious nod to Murmur, both in phrasing and inflection. But it’s mostly canonical English influence: having roamed the same streets where flyers of her post-punk heroes once lined their gutters, it’s clear that Campbell’s sound is calibrated to the class of ‘77. She channels the ethos of those indie stalwarts so much so that Nerve Up could be a lost demo from 1981.

Former My Bloody Valentine and Stereolab producer Guy Fixsen helped engineer the project, working with Campbell at an ad hoc studio in a dilapidated mill. Though it’s hard to determine where Fixsen’s direction begins and ends, it’s clear the pair went for an informed aesthetic over robust production. Everything is cleanly recorded, but terribly flat; the gauzy C86 guitar lines could benefit from doubling up, while the album’s low end lacks sub frequencies. If it weren’t for Campbell’s dexterous guitar work (she plays those jangle-pop rhythms incredibly well) or vocal range, there’d be very little to chew on.

So, the album is somewhat of an anachronism — a meditation on 30-year-old music by a woman with a lot on her mind. It is also unapologetically derivative. “Cattletears” calls in the drums from Unknown Pleasures, and you can practically hear Martin Hannett’s snare again on “Have No Past.” One could mix any of these songs between Gang of Four, PiL or Wire, and the layman would hardly notice the three-decade gap.

Hollowed-out closer “Fear No More” sounds like the efforts of a shy girl in a café, trying to hide behind the mic stand. It’s a dubious ending to a record that, depending upon your taste (or distaste) for epochal post-punk, sounds better on paper. Indeed, the majority of Nerve Up feels firmly planned out, as if Campbell forgot about the experimental ethos that made her forebears so compelling in the first place.

By Jon Dempsey

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