Cerebral, shimmering, pinpoint precise pop is the order of the day on ‘Without Why’, a remarkable solo debut record. The fact that Rose Elinor Dougall used to be a Pipette is no secret and several tracks on this record hark back to such girl group greatness, but there’s plenty more going on here too. Opener ‘Start/Stop/Synchro’, classic pop with a thin Eighties-indie sound, made for a cracking standalone single when the album was in the early stages of its creation, but also functions fittingly as a curtain-raiser.
By the time woozy, textured single ‘Find Me Out’ emerges, it’s pretty clear that this isn’t going to be a set of songs cast from one mould, but actually an exploration of an impressive record collection. When Just Played spoke to Rose prior to the album’s release she was genuinely thrilled about doing things her own way, commenting that “putting ‘Find Me Out’ out as a single was, in a lot of people’s minds, fucking stupid because it’s four minutes long and really slow, but actually I really loved doing that and what’s to stop me?!” That carefree approach, born out of having to record the album when time, funds and studio space allowed, appears to have liberated somebody tired of the constraints of the pop treadmill. Such freedom has resulted in an album of observational lyrics set to intricate arrangements and occupying a variety of styles, none of which fail to hit the spot.
The burbling electronic sounds of ‘May Holiday’ have a hint of Stereolab to them, whilst ‘Another Version Of Pop Song’ is like a deconstructed version of her former band, replete with handclaps and harmonies but offset by a charmingly fragile refrain wobbling its way through the track. The soundstage of the album is quite something, instruments floating right across the speakers and songs left to breathe. In an age of incessant compression, the production is instantly striking.
The defining moment of ‘Without Why’ is ‘Watching’, a supremely sinister song which dates back to times spent working in a pub to make ends meet as the album slowly emerged and observing those who were passing their evenings on the other side of the bar. Dougall takes up the story: “I’d never really written a song like that before which was really based on a drone and using the voice in a different way, with choral harmonies and things. It’s kind of about when you’re involved in a sort of destructive relationship of some kind. There’s something a little bit of sinister about just watching, and there is something sort of creepy about when you watch the object of your affection just kind of move and walk around you find yourself involved in just their physicality.” The disembodied vocals which hover above the aforementioned drone deserve the headphone treatment, whilst the stuttering drums ensure that the sense of paranoia is maintained. A staggering achievement, it will make clear in only four minutes why this album is quite so high up the end of year list.
You can read the full interview with Rose Elinor Dougall here.