Poppy Ackroyd’s Dead Albatross Award nominated debut album was one 2012’s finest and most overlooked records. Delicately tip toeing between the intimacy and warmth of Nils Frahm’s Felt and the percussive preparations of Hauschka’s piano, Escapement carved out its own path through the use of violin, and treating it in much the same way as the piano, cinematic build-ups and field recordings courtesy of Joe Acheson, bandmate from Hidden Orchestra.
Whilst Escapement was heavily indebted to Acheson’s style, most notably in structure and percussion, Feathers is a more individual album, with more understated build ups and a more varied palette. The use of piano and violin, as a percussive as well as melodic instrument, is maintained, but included in the arrangements this time are the Harpsichord, Harmonium, Clavichord and Spinet, all recorded with rare access to Edinburgh University’s Musical Instrument Museum at St Cecilia’s Hall, as well as cello from Hidden Orchestra contributor Su-a Lee. For the most part, these additional instruments add a further dimension to the work, with the cello in particular contributing to a depth missing from Escapement. At times, however, the plucked keyboard instruments – Harpsicord, Spinet and Clavichord – hint at synthesized acoustic guitars of ’90s Ibiza due to the combination of editing and their naturally hard attack, which can’t help but detract from the elegance of the soundscapes created.
Strata opens the album with rising chords building tension to a restrained coda that quietly resolves the opening melodies and Croft is clearly inspired by the move from Edinburgh to Brighton with piano melodies and string accompaniments evoking slowly creeping waves. Timeless contains the album’s most beautiful moment, with the string arrangements sliding towards and tugging away from each other with a serene sense of ease.
The focus on Feathers is on the sonic elements. Possibly in response to Nils Frahm’s ever-growing popularity since Escapement, repeating the production would feel like jumping on a band wagon rather than retreading covered ground, and to counter this the focus is pulled towards a wider range of more unusual instruments, which, when it works, is beautiful and inventive and truly original given the unique range of instruments at her disposal. The album is less indebted to Hidden Orchestra with Ackroyd finding her own voice through composition, percussion and production. What is lacking, however, are the gentle and emotively enveloping melodies of Escapement. It was these melodies that formed the backbone of Ackroyd’s debut, to which the piano and violin was so beautifully added, and although still dotted throughout Feathers, it can feel at times like the balance is reversed.