Amidst the recent explosion of synthpop groups over the last 5 years, very few of them executed their debuts with as much confidence and clarity as Woman’s Hour’s Conversations. With a knack for enamoring composition shrouded in greyscale mystique, the British four-piece achieve a melancholic serenity by combining minimalistic instrumentation with the tender voice of their lead vocalist.
That aforementioned singer, Fiona Burgess, formed Woman’s Hour with her brother William (guitar), along with bassist Nicolas Graves and keyboardist Josh Hunnisett back in 2011. Their look intertwines with their sound: clean-cut features, stylishly conservative outfits, and monochrome visuals. But for as tame as the band appears, their aesthetic truly compliments their music, properly balancing two sides of artistic creativity.
Woman’s Hour wasn’t always such a finely-groomed machine though. In its fledgling stages, the newly-formed quartet had a bit of trouble getting off the ground, and weren’t exactly sure how to match their established sound with a compelling visual component. “…It wasn’t until after we released our first single that we realized we wanted to control the visual side of our work,” Fiona told Alt Citizen in a recent interview. “We felt very vulnerable after that experience, and realized we wanted to feel ownership and creative control over every aspect of our work and for everything to reflect our musical style.”
To help remedy the situation, they enlisted the help of TATE and MOMA fine artists Oliver Chanarin and Adam Broomberg. And thus, the new-and-improved Woman’s Hour was given life, now equipped with the proper tools to portray its narrative.
The most important thing to note about Conversations is its focus on communication, and I don’t just mean the pillow-talking at 3 a.m. with your lover kind either. Yes, the entire project wraps itself up in a blanket of sensitivity and openess that deals with love, even heartache. Yet the overarching theme contains a specific brevity. It has more to do with relatable conveyances of feelings based on real experiences, and not just abstract, romantic ideas.
In the album’s title track, Fiona Burgess croons over a lively guitar line and restrained bass riffs, as gentle synths advance and retreat like waves washing up on the shore. Almost like a sentimental onlooker watching two others struggle to express themselves, Burgess seems deep in thought, possessing the words said couple can’t seem to find for one another. And all of this is happening in between the introspective chorus:
“Conversations, we should have with ourselves/That we won’t share with anyone else”
“Awkward moments of strange affection/That couldn’t have been shared with anyone else, not that it helps.”
Sonically speaking, most of the project follows in the footsteps of “Conversations”. Almost every track possesses a dream-like quality, which at times sounds absolutely stunning. Take “To The End” for instance, a track subtly spearheaded by Burgess’ ghostly presence over seemingly submerged keys and that softly strummed guitar. “Our Love Has No Rhythm” slowly rolls forward, driven by deep percussions and bass as Burgess sounds both lucid and sorrowful.
Conversations even switches it up a bit in certain moments, like the uncharacteristically upbeat “In Stillness We Remain” or the M83-like album closer “The Day That Needs Defending”, with it’s striking, synth-heavy undercurrent.
In terms of innovation you won’t find much here. The band rarely deviates from their established sound, which speaks to the album’s fluidity, yet leaves questions as to how far the group can progress going forward. However, Woman’s Hour hones their lean, meticulous sound with a bewitching charm and expert craftsmanship. All of these elements work in Conversations’ favor, resulting in an impressively solid debut. Conversations is out now via Secretly Canadian.
Final Verdict: 7.5/10