Laura Kidd’s album under the Penfriend moniker is some achievement, and despite some mucking about in the chart-counting process, this self-released DIY album has brought her into the mainstream, and so it very much should – it is the culmination of several years of work, and a validation of her own self-belief.
Based in Bristol, she has previously released material under the She Makes War moniker and toured with various artists including Babybird, and had some notable support slots (Amanda Palmer, among others).
‘Seventeen’ is dark and quite menacing, with some high-tempo range guitar and bashing drums – the lyrics are not an easy listen, hinting at abuse of some kind, and bad things happening. The slightly glam-racket musical backing is highly effective and the track is complex but also quite poppy, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
‘Hell Together’ is slower but also appears to dredge the memory banks for some really bad ones – “lost lives”. Who knows what bitterness LK is invoking here but it is very effective and the guitar work is again quite incredible.
‘I Used to Know Everything’ has a great analogue synth intro, a wee bit Human League – is it a song of self-doubt, maybe, but so tuneful and the guitar sounds are wonderful…
‘Dispensable Body’ is sweet and light, recalling a bit of Kate Bush possibly, with electronic percussion – the double-tracked harmonies are lovely…
‘Seashaken’ again has great melodies and has quite the cosmic touch, thoughts of leaving one’s body and going somewhere else, for escape or just pure joy? And the instrumentation is very simple, but for some reason the tune reminds BM of Lush or possibly even The Cocteau Twins, yes it is that good!
‘Loving Echoes’ is more upbeat, with some electronic beats, “next day delivery” references perhaps lockdown culture and the synth riffs cleverly recall Morricone’s spag-west tunes…deliberately, probably!
‘Cancel Your Hopes’ is more of an indie thrash – but it rails against urban development and “deals”, not happy about it, and the organ-led attack against the “hole in the bucket” is the closest to a protest song that this album gets.
‘Long Shadows’ is another electronic ditty but it uses some great guitar lines to emote about “searching for meaning” and there are some uncomfortable undercurrents about “trusting machines” – it is dark but also singalong, the best kind of song – about surviving, a universal theme.
‘Out of the Blue’ is actually the longest track on the album at almost 5 minutes – it starts as a finger picking guitar and voice, but develops into a piano-led ballad, possibly of redemption – the vocal line “I’ll Come Back to You”, signals that even the deepest blues can be shaken off given some time.
Blue Car’ starts ominously – mid-paced, remembering a summer, distorted guitars – can’t end well, surely? Is it recalling the good old days, because the present isn’t so great either – “Everywhere I look, machines are taking over our lives”… So is it actually a memory of better days? Who knows, but there is great guitar work on this track and the chorus is evocative, slightly Enya (not a bad thing) and could do well as a theme for Ch4 Wales’ next dark mystery series (!)…
Throughout this remarkable album, Laura’s voice is the constant, soaring where necessary but also dipping, sometimes double-tracked, at times subtle, at times strident, but always resolute and quite the most adaptable and resounding female vocal BM can think of in music today.
The whole record does resemble a song-cycle, or a half-look into LK’s inner world, along with distracting outer forces. Highly recommended.