Katy and Nick, AKA Katy Cotterell (Es/Public Service) and Nick Carlisle (Bamboo/Peepholes), have been releasing bits and pieces as a duo since 2017 and have put this all together on ‘What I Did For You’. It’s a dark, brooding collection of synth pop and unnerving soundscapes for a sick world.
From the off what hits you is Cotterell’s utterly striking vocals which, while powerful, are almost childlike with a unique falsetto. She sounds pretty much unlike anyone else we can think of. Of course, on opener Formless Signs there is a pitching effect that adds to this childlike quality. The sparse, minimal, twinkling arrangement that accompanies only enhances the power of Cotterell’s voice. This strikes a similar tone to the way the clanging acoustic minimal backings enhance Richard Dawson’s voice on his 2017 album ‘Peasant’. Around the halfway mark the song morphs into whispering, dark oscillating synths and creepy percussion. It’s a powerful and otherworldly opener.
The cavernous vocals of That Man Is Back follow. Quickly, it transforms into a slice of dark gothic 80s synth pop, with punchy, crisp drums. There are some classic synth sounds at play, adding heft to the desperate lyrics –
“That man is back and it’s impossible, really is no comfort to me, not at all.”
Unwilling opens with unsettling bells before a gorgeous and beautifully arranged soundscape takes hold. It’s reminiscent of Carlisle’s work with Bamboo but with darker undertones. Cotterell’s vocal performance here is also quite stunning. It all comes full circle to those creepy bells.
Until Then plays with percussion like a ticking clock and is underpinned with a high pitched arpeggio. It serves as the central point for the glistening shards of light that reflect off it. The vocals, drums and various simple synth hooks come in and out of focus. It’s another lovingly constructed piece that makes the slow sway of the gorgeously understated centre piece “Intuit” even more pronounced.
What follows is the beginning of a musical triptych, spread out between the final five songs, each entitled Sky Is A Flat Panel. Part i opens with eery, intertwining samples of Tim Buckley and This Mortal Coil singing Buckley’s ‘Song To The Siren’ before Cotterell enters with the line around which all three pieces evolve “So easy to slip in, under the covers, the sky is a flat panel, faces are outlines”. In part i this is set to a single synth string accompaniment.
Before Part ii we’re treated to another fine synth pop song, Everything, which has a great hook and lyrics seemingly documenting past struggles – “I had one pound in my bank account, but that’s over now” sings Cotterell.
Sky Is A Flat Panel ii is far more sinister than the opening part. There’s whistling and a drum sound at the beginning that sounds like someone hammering nails into something unseen. Plaintive glockenspiel and strings create a cinematic beauty underlined by glitchy drums and icy synths.
That ticking clock sound from Until Then returns to introduce a cover of Bowie classic Ashes To Ashes. It’s faithful to the original in form, but reimagines what the song may have sounded like had it been placed on Bowie’s ‘Low’ album, instead (an album that this often evokes).
Sky Is A Flat Panel iii brings together some of the same parts we heard in the first two – at first with a more abstract quality, then with a simple beauty with deep bass and oscillating sounds, before ‘Songs To The Siren’ returns to provide one final eldritch outro.
The excellent Gob Nation have unearthed a bright shining, fully formed, synth pop gem here.
You may enjoy this if you like: Bamboo, PC World, David Bowie (Low), Julia Holter
Listen here and order: