It was five years ago when Cumbrian trio Woman’s Hour delivered the pristine atmospherics of their acclaimed debut album ‘Conversations’. It was a devastating and dreamy culmination of the buzz that had been surrounding them at the time: Hype Machine named the group as 2013’s sixth most-blogged about band in the UK (behind the likes of Wolf Alice, Chvrches and Haim, but ahead of The xx, Jungle and, strangely enough, Justin Timberlake). There was so much promise, but sadly, their path forward wouldn’t be so simple.
The band decided to call it quits in 2016 amid the making of their follow-up, ‘Ephyra’, citing “deteriorating mental health” as the reason. Despite their split though, the three-piece recently reconvened to finish off their lost LP. “The thought of it just sitting in someone’s hard drive was heartbreaking,” singer Fiona Burgess has said of their decision to complete the record, describing it as “an opportunity to reflect on what happened and embrace what we achieved”. In fact, it’s as much a post-mortem as it is as a eulogy.
The band admit that ‘Ephyra’ is “a record forged from remains” and, as such, skips between sounds while serving as a collection of pained parting conversations. On opening track ‘Don’t Speak’, Burgess pleas for silence as “it’s not worth the argument”, her vulnerability amplified by a gossamer electronic backing. Album highlight ‘From Eden To Exile Then Into Dust’ rises from the mire as a twitching and pulsing six-minute groove, as Burgess’ words sound thoroughly therapeutic.
The swooning dirge of ‘I Can’t Take You Seriously’ is as much an ode to disappointment as the title suggests, while the harmonious ‘Mirrorball’ comes as close to pop as Woman’s Hour have ever got – with a sound to be filed next to the more serene moments of Beach House and School Of Seven Bells. ‘Removal Of Hope’ ends the record on a poignant note, with Burgess struggling to come to peace with the notion that “this great machine can reduce us to beasts”.
These highlights aside, there’s a confusion between all the alternating sounds. In capturing the band’s own isolation, the songs often appear disparate and suffer as a result. Ultimately, the record doesn’t feel wholly complete. By the final rotation of this imperfect kaleidoscope, there are inconsistencies that only highlight the fractures that underlie ‘Ephyra’. But Woman’s Hour have a knack for communicating this feeling so gracefully. It’s beautiful but bittersweet farewell.