VF Records (VF1)
With Slow Dynamo, Valerie Francis is introducing herself to the pantheon of Irish female singer-songwriters with a firm handshake and steady eye, armed with a brand of alt-folk which seems as informed as much by traditional music as by the genre’s crazed master, Current 93. What places her firmly among the ranks of the innovators is her daring combination of naturalism and technology, locating her somewhere between the gentle electro-pop of Nina Hynes and the more traditional singer-songwriter style of Ann Scott. Standing at only thirty-three minutes long, the album is a collection of miniature gems, characterised by sweetness and aloofness alike.
Produced by the multi-instrumentalist Francis and Asylum Studio’s Jimmy Eadie, Slow Dynamo sees the appropriation of the realm of the technological by that of the natural: layering, synthesis and sampling shaping its essentially acoustic sound. At times, multiple layers of overdubbed acoustic instruments are enveloped in a framework of just-audible sampled sounds, forming a whole whose parts are indistinguishable. Francis’ voice floats over it all, as if taken from another world.
The album’s title track opens with the natural: a harmonium and it’s wheezing bellows. Sampled sounds form a background and through a gradual increase of layers – both instrumental and vocal – we reach a sound that is at once warming, intimate and just a little alien.
‘How’ charts the journey from the natural to the technological, from the guitar intro to the drum machine and ethereal vocals of the final choruses which marries her style closer to that of Japanese electronic artist Tujiko Noriko than any we’ve heard from Ireland. ‘Cannonball’ is in danger of recalling Damien Rice, but the return of the harmonium and dense production create an unusually static background that contrasts with brief moments of chorus-saturated movement, while ‘At Most’ is an unexpected but not ineffective foray into jazz.
Slow Dynamo shows a careful artist. There is rarely a sound out of place or a superfluous note: the ten songs are held together by focus, brevity and consideration. The songs are less individual as a result, and on first listening to Slow Dynamo it seems like a thirty-three minute theme and variations. But, true to its name, further listening reveals its greater depth.
Published on 1 August 2009