April, the month of ‘openings’ according to the Romans – sandwiched in between the God of War and the Goddess of Growth. And apparently it snows, sometimes.
April 2016 saw the release of She Makes War’s third album, Direction of Travel – a glorious 12 track battle cry to love, family, resilience, and the threat of an angry girlfriend (or case of herpes) coming to settle the score.
Self-produced, She Makes War’s third album is a step up from its predecessors – built on rich bedrock of melody, mischievous lyrics and unflinching self-analysis. It sounds great too; recorded in part at Laura Kidd’s home (she who is She Makes War) and in part at J&J’s Recording Studio in Bristol.
In our interview with Laura Kidd she professed wanting to make the album ‘of a high quality but I didn’t want it to be about perfection – I wanted it to feel like something happened’. And that it does; Direction of Travel wears its heart on its sleeve in a fun, challenging and ultimately endearing way.
Plus the opening track is a ball grabbing corker – ‘Drown Me Out’ is a driven rock thumper, a melancholic call to arms wrapped around a simply addictive chorus. And you know one of the lines already, so sing along.
‘Cold Shoulder’ is the first playful dig at crap lovers, something She Makes War might become synonymous with if a few more February 14ths go sour. But if you’re going to do it then you do it like this; punky, unabashed, by the time the second line has been spat out you know right where you are. Plus the line I referenced earlier (beginning of the second verse) still makes me laugh and I’ve been playing it near on repeat.
A further high point comes from the subtle acoustic soul search of ‘Paper Thin’, which not only puts this trite metaphor to fresh use (not easy) but also has Tanya Donelly on backing vocals. Result. ‘Stargazing’ tells a soft lament of lost love with a beautiful string section adornment – Laura Kidd again composing beyond her own head.
‘Time to Change’ is a cracking, jangly jaunt on ukulele, and whilst the additional vocals from Mark Chadwick don’t work for me I’m sure the distinctive The Levellers front man will be a draw for some. Darker moments come in the Lynch-esque walk through psychosis and dependency in ‘Turning to You’, the brooding intent of ‘In Cold Blood’, and the inherently personal tale of family fears in ‘Please Don’t’ – a track written when Laura Kidd’s father was seriously ill.
Then there’s the final track on Direction to Travel, ‘The Best’. Listen to it after listening to the entire album and make you own minds up. But, to me, the uplifting lullaby exit on Direction of Travel is a simple stroke of brilliance, right down to the stripped back final fifteen seconds.
As a rule I look for counterpoints but it’s genuinely hard to do here. And whilst I’d cite ‘Alone’ and ‘5000 Miles’ as the weaker moments on the album – less fully filled out songs, but ideas that became more than a motif – this is in the face of stiff competition. The first half of Direction to Travel is noticeably stronger so maybe track listing could be another negative. There’s a couple of cloying lyrics in there too, but I’m reaching here. Maybe my heart just isn’t good enough to do amazing things.
If you’re a fan of She Makes War you’re going to, quite rightly, love this album – Kidd’s first two LPs feel now like they were always alluding to this release. If you’ve never heard of this Bristol based polymath, then this is pretty much the most perfect introduction.
‘Drown Me Out’ – She Makes War