Review: Halcyon – Qualm

Last year, England’s Cleo Harratt released her first solo album under the guise of Halcyon. ‘Eating Cherries And Listening To The Rain’ was an arresting, if slightly fragmented record which nonetheless proved that Yorkshire-based woman could become a singer/songwriter in her own right after her impressive vocal contributions to the austere, post-rock project RealPolitik.

Qualm Album Cover

There’s a raw, almost grungy edge to the opening tracks which suggests that Harratt is no longer the innocent, wounded sparrow figure, so apparent on the first album. She begins confidently with ‘At My Feet’; a song as strident in guitar and voice as the title suggests and the arrangements on ‘Cold Pink’ confirm there is little time for willowy etherealism. ‘Sylvia’ may use childlike instrumentation but Harratt’s bold performance suggests All About Eve’s Julianne Regan whilst the words of ’13:13′ (“Get back to your computer. Show’s over. You’re here forever”) will appeal to anyone who has experienced the daily grind and ennui of office work. It’s also one of the most infectious songs on the album. So too is the appealing jangle-fest that is ‘Wedding Dress’.

‘Snake Eyes’ could be classed as the beginning of the second half of the album and boasts the most ambitious production with sinister strings and angry guitars to the fore. Then there is the near eight minutes of ‘Shadows’, where xylophone and military drums accompany Harratt on an epic, dark journey. Her own vocals seem quite adolescent and playful in contrast to the haunting arrangement but this only adds to the macabre nature of the song. If the album does subside in drama after this, it’s completely forgiveable because the listener needs a break from the intensity just as much as the artist does. That said, there is still much to enjoy in ‘Dreamless Sleep’, which in lesser hands would seem like a a gentle, romantic folly but the song is so beautifully sung it’s hard not to be won over by Harratt’s charm, whilst ‘Wilderness’ has the get up and go to be a potential live favourite.

‘Qualm’ sets the uncertainties of ‘Eating Cherries…’ to one side and confirms the development of Harratt into a solo performer of great distinction. If her debut could be viewed as the work of a distracted adolescent, this is the affirmation of her womanhood. Kudos too for the sterling work of her bandmates who inject the album with just the right amount of gothic drama, without it becoming overbearing.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream of Halcyon – Qualm

Further Listening:
Kate Bush, All About Eve, RealPolitik

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