Ella van der Woude, better known for fronting indie rockers Houses and touring with dream pop darlings Amber Arcades, must be kicking herself at the hand that fate has dealt her with the release date of her debut solo EP as ELLA. Her sparse palette of baritone guitar, soulful vocal and barely-there Juno synth recalls nothing so much as comeback kids The XX, whose third album is released this same week. Fortunately for her, whilst they’re busy sounding like their own remixes, ELLA reminds us of what we loved about them in the first place.
That fragile, nocturnal vibe of confessional lyrics and plucked guitar is best demonstrated by lead track ‘IDWTGTKY’. Its title is an awkward acronym for its main lyric, the equally awkward admission “I don’t want to get to know you” despite herself: she continues, “There is something regrettable about the way we looked at each other”. The watercolour smears of synth are little more than tones of ambient sound, perfectly produced, leaving plenty of breathing space where the temptation could be to fill in the gaps. These delicate songs need the fresh air, the hope of near-dawn after another cold, melancholy night.
‘Unknown Treasure’ swells with that hope. Its first half is still more icy guitar and hushed vocals, almost as if she’s worried about breaking the silence, singing “I pretend to hold you close”. But then a tendril of synth appears, a cymbal is tapped and lush strings bring the song into bloom. The stunning second half brings real colour to an otherwise stylishly monochrome EP, recalling Laura Marling‘s early heart-in-your-mouth moments, before ‘Lullaby’ appropriately enough lulls us back into a peaceful state, bringing over some of the strings but the focus being on the music box guitar and whispered vocals. A beautifully restrained, perfectly formed record.
ELLA EP is released on 19 January.