Pale Fire

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Having left the sixties pop inspired indie of her first two albums behind on “Love Is Not Pop” in favour of a more electronic sound, for her fifth album, Sarah Assbring has decided to look back to a more recent era and make a record that she has talked of as an homage to the music she loved from the nineties. While the idea of another addition to the growing clutch of nineties revival records may chill the bones of anybody for whom the word “Britpop” causes the onset of a cold sweat, fortunately, Assbring’s taste is far better than that. Pale Fire is a slow burning record, full of references to house and trip-hop: think Massive Attack, not Menswear. There’s even a cheeky lift from The Prodigy’s “Outer Space” on “Walk On By”, though this is hardly an album for loved up gurning at 3am somewhere in a field in Hampshire. This is opaque, vague music, drenched in woozy effects. At its best, it’s terrifically atmospheric. “Hold Off The Dawn”’ is particular highlight, mixing layer upon layer of hazy vocals over reverb soaked house piano, classic synths and deep, dub inspired bass. Meanwhile, “Love Confusion” recalls Heaven or Las Vegas era Cocteau Twins with its minimal backing of almost discordant synths and multiple Assbrings even sounding a lot like Liz Fraser. However, while it’s all beautifully crafted, this is also music with the edges removed. On earlier albums, Assbring’s vocals were fragile and cracked, which at its most effective lent songs like “Party” an intriguing sense of uneasy vulnerability. Here, they are buried in the ever present reverb and multi-tracking: just another element in the haze. There’s also a sense that, while the references to the past are in impeccable taste, that the album doesn’t quite live up to the standards of the classic albums it is in awe of. As a result, the ten songs here end up washing over you perfectly pleasantly without leaving any strong impressions. As an album, it smoulders, but never catches light: a pale fire indeed.