Scott Chalmers

Catherine Elms’s new album is an organic release, filled to the brim with richly dark vibes, haunting songs, musical intricacies, and inspired performances.

Catherine Elms is based in Swansea. Her musical styles borrow from a number of infamous, quirky divas, such as PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, and to my ears, Kate Bush. With brash, in-you-face vocals, harrowing, smooth, and wild, Catherine’s singing is captivating and immediately compelling. Just as notable are her immediate arrangements, characterized by bold stylistic directions. From the fuzzed-out, gentle punk of Frustrations, to the grand, serene soundscapes on Monday Eyes, to the colorful, curious, dramatic Fire Song. A widely varied album with Catherine’s distinctive voice as a string that binds it all together.

From the few starting chords of All I Want Is Everything we get a taste of what Catherine’s songwriting is like. The Dramatic, massive chords sound captivating and thought-provoking. Paired with Elms’s hearty, manic yelps for bewildering results. Following that is the fantastic Frustrations. As mentioned earlier, the fuzzed-out punk atmospheres of this song are crazed and unkempt. From the hectic beats to our first true introduction to Catherine’s distinctive soprano and wacky, inflective delivery, the vibes this song delivers are energizing and a little unsettling, but in the best ways possible. Finishing this brilliant early combo is Sound And Useless Fury. Pushing hard of that punk sound, the songwriting of this song evokes a feminine version of Nick Cave & The Bad Seed’s brilliantly dark and horror-inspired albums Let Love In, and Murder Ballads from the mid-90s, with intensely charismatic, hollow-sounding piano, outstanding yelp-y delivery, and empowering lyrics. Monday Eyes ended up being a highlight for my whole month. I was truly moved by everything in this song. The serene, dynamic composition, the gorgeous words, the inspiring arrangement with heart-stopping, lush strings, a restrained, gentle beat, and rhythmic, intimate piano riffs, and of course the heartfelt, emotional delivery from Catherine. A showstopper.

When Words Run Dry is a modern rendition of Hit the Road Jack. With an almost identical chord progression, the vocals are fantastic and with outstanding presence. A very simple song with a playful heart and a ton of musical nuance. Fire Song is another masterpiece. The ambient atmosphere immediately grabs the attention, and the rich reverb on Catherine’s voice keeps it. The vast, roomy drums, again drenched in rich reverb, provide ample color and character to this piece that sets it far apart. The body of the song is introduced subtly midway, as the drums pick up their dynamic pace, with explosive tomtom rolls, as a gargantuan string section starts wailing in the background. An outstanding arrangement on the most peaceful and ethereal composition of the album. The way Good Day starts, with the tragic progression and the oppressively heavy strings makes it intensely melancholic, while the chorus introduces a definite hint of optimism. What’s really inspiring about this song is how it shifts from this tragic introduction to one of the most reaffirming and hopeful outros, as the howls of the strings transform into siren songs. Upside Down, as hinted by its name, is a musically curious sound that continually shifts between major and minor tonalities using a distinctive chord progression, for a mythical, captivating sound. A delicate stunner that’s based mostly on Catherine’s introspective, chilled-down delivery and piano, with stark strings introduced near the end, that fade out as suddenly as they fade in. A sublime composition. On the closer, Apology, another delicate, piano-led arrangement, we have a short dissonant turnaround that repeats, and every time it repeats, it’s like a portal to a different dimension of hauntingly beautiful balladry. Whether it’s the cyclic, hypnotic chorus, or the curious, jubilant verse, those magical little two bars of dissonance are a delightful compositional tool utilized to its best effect. A fantastic, intricate, dynamic closer.

 I Have Seen It, I Do Not Fear It is a stark, wonderfully quirky and dark, sublimely written and delivered an album of songs full of life, character, and intention, and the result is a supremely enriching and enjoyable listen that, while longer than average, ended up sounding brief, easy, and interesting.