Album review: LoneLady – ‘Nerve Up’ (Warp)

Not just one in a line of great Manchester acts, this is a unique, brilliant debut

There isn’t just one reason why Manchester has been the UK’s premier city for producing killer pop and rock music for the last 35 years. Its strong sense of civic pride, ever-thriving club scene and sharp sense of self-awareness have been bolstered by its essential involvement in post-punk, indie, acid house and Britpop over the years. And while the ties that bind [a]Delphic[/a]’s limpid house/minimal rock hybrid to the Afrobeat/ACR-like funk of [a]Egyptian Hip Hop[/a] to the steady-as-she-goes indie of [a]The Courteeners[/a] are merely conceptual, it is good to see focus return to the UK’s new music foundry again.

Another act who should have her name shouted from the top of the Arndale Centre but has no stylistic links to ‘New Manchester’ as such, is [a]LoneLady[/a]. Known to her family as Julie Campbell, she was born on Manchester’s glamorously unglamorous Eastern Axis toward Prestwich and Salford (the birth corridor of [a]The Fall[/a] and [a]Joy Division[/a]), but despite London-centric taste-makers declaring the time right and the random act of her birth declaring the place right, she is defiantly her own woman. She even seems slightly at odds to her record label Warp; not, as has been suggested, because she plays guitar (the Sheffield label has long been home to acts such as [a]Maxïmo Park[/a] and [a]Gravenhurst[/a]) or because she’s a girl ([a]Mira Calix[/a] and [a]Leila[/a] might have something to say about this), but because she has such a peculiarly American sound.

Brutalist guitar plucking, stripped of nearly all effects, combined with odd staccato bursts of percussion and unobtrusively simple drum lines is all LoneLady (as the name suggests) needs by way of accompaniment. The nakedness of the music suggests a confessional nature, an intimacy that may make some feel uncomfortable. Yet ‘If Not Now’ and ‘Intuition’ are not the uncomfortable, accusatory howl of [a]Hole[/a] but the tense, nuanced, psychological drama of 4AD art rockers Throwing Muses. Elsewhere the rock’n’soulfulness of ‘Early The Haste Comes’ combines with a loose disco backline that resembles pre-fame [a]Gossip[/a].

This is not to say that there isn’t a link to Mancunia’s musical past in LoneLady’s output. If she inhabits the same sphere of any other performer from those rainy climes, it is that of Linder Sterling, the post-punk musician and artist who fronted the underrated Ludus. Sterling, who not only designed the iconic cover to ‘Orgasm Addict’ by the [a]Buzzcocks[/a] but has the pleasure of being [a]Morrissey[/a]’s best friend, combined glass-cold vocals with a coolly analytical and unromantic lyrical style over jerky new wave guitars in a similar way. But as much as Ludus may have been an influence, we should celebrate LoneLady as the arrival of a fresh and invigorating voice whose talent transcends time and place and influence.

John Doran

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Click here to get your copy of LoneLady’s ‘Nerve Up’ from the Rough Trade shop

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