There’s a moment in this evening’s show when the music develops into some kind of domineering puppet master. Eyes closed, singer-songwriter Sarah Howells appears as if she is under the control of some malevolent force, manipulating her movements as she’s unceremoniously distorted by the potency of this collection of new songs. Recently released to the public as Bryde‘s debut record Like an Island, it demonstrates the significant shift this London-based artist has made in the last few years.
Her previous band Paper Aeroplanes released the more electronic and polished Joy in 2015 and followed this with the band’s first North American dates including slots at SXSW. However, in October, the union with fellow Paper Aeroplane Richard Llewellyn was put on hold and Bryde was born. A handful of solo shows were performed in a support slot with Jacob Morley, allowing her to test out the new direction. The effects were devastating. New tracks were released across a couple of kindred EPs establishing this new, raw direction. It left fans craving more. Like an Island is the result and it provides everything those initial speculative steps suggested back in 2015.
This evening’s show in Manchester’s Northern Quarter opens with one of the first tracks released during this time. ‘Doesn’t That Make You Feel Good’ grounds the uninitiated in Sarah’s modus operandi; tender vocals intensify as sweet notes distort and become jagged around the edges. The inclusion of a band is significant this evening, helping tracks like ‘Honey’ flourish as Sarah’s barbed guitar is accompanied by pounding bass lines and punchy percussion.
Songs like ‘Handstands’ have been fermenting since 2015 and now appear on the new record as more complete and fulfilling pieces. The inclusion of the unnerving percussion clatters nightmarishly over Howells’ initially tender vocals, which build over warped guitar tones, enhancing the dark picture the song paints. The band step back into the shadows for ‘Wait’ which is introduced as the song that really projected the new direction Sarah was travelling in back in 2015. It has lost none of hypnotic potency this evening. Although there is deserved acknowledgement across all quarters for her incredibly versatile vocals that effortlessly float, ghostly amidst the entranced crowd, her guitar work is equally accomplished. On ‘Fast Awake’, fingers glide fluently, bewitching us, complimenting the gorgeously fragile and lilting vocal structure.
It is an unexpected shift then when ‘Flesh, Blood and Love’ is unleashed. The reserved introduction is deceptive as the song quickly morphs into a full-on rocker, packed with grungy guitar solos and an angry chorus. The forbidding tone is retained for ‘Desire’ which is built around a thumping bass line and crashing drums but these once again dissipate as the beautiful ‘Steady Heart’ provides a melancholy balance to proceedings once again. This precarious swing of emotions that each song presents to us is one of the key successes of the evening. The set list never rests and the tender moments are quickly banished to be replaced by the uninhibited nature of songs like ‘To Be Loved’ and ‘Peace’.
The evening appears to be on a collision course to something. After demanding quiet for one of the more hushed moments (‘I’m a bit of diva, you know,’ Howells explains), we arrive at album opener ‘To Be Brave’. Once again, a deceptively melancholy introduction is carefully constructed but a gradual increase in the song’s intensity concludes with car-crash ferocity. This time, the moment isn’t tempered by calmness. Instead, ‘Less’ sticks the blade in deeper as vocals strain and the small stage struggles to contain the swirling wrath of Bryde’s discontent. No encore can embellish this and after the distortion has abated, Bryde, as a band, take their leave.
In 2015, Sarah Howells was still sneaking old Paper Aeroplanes tracks into her new material sets. It is significant that this evening this no longer seems to occur.
LIKE AN ISLAND IS OUT NOW.
Images: Iain Fox