In previous reviews of this rather intriguing Welsh lady now domiciled in Manchester, I’ve been unable to drag myself away from comparisons with three other artists, all of them top-class songwriters, who have written about how they dealt with the immediate aftermath of a break-up. One of them is Emmy the Great, who did so, on her second album ‘Virtue.’ Another is Fenne Lily, whose own debut album comes out next month. The third is Fiona Apple, who needs no introduction and who has made a career out of handling break-ups in her own inimitable way.
If that helps you place Elle Mary that’s a start at least. Her hushed vocal delivery is not unlike that of Fenne Lily, but with clipped vowels, while her songwriting style echoes that of Emma- Lee Moss’ quieter acoustic numbers. She’s a nifty wordsmith too, perhaps not yet quite in the Great’s class, nor that of the World Champion of ex-Partner Assassination, Apple, but she digs up some little gems on this album, such as “Would a body care, with no body there”, and the wonderful “You never know what’s coming round in this place, Well if it’s coming round ain’t it the same old stench?”, which is straight out of the Apple songbook, circa 2005 and the unparalleled vindictiveness of ‘Extraordinary Machine’, and yes, that is a compliment.
Elle Mary (Elin Rossiter) is a folk artist with her own Manchester club and acoustic material who did a Dylan and went electric, not part way through a gig but in response to this break-up and added the Bad Men (Michael Dubec and Pete Sitch) as she took a darker turn thereafter.
Her chosen description for the material on ‘Constant Unfailing Night’ is “heavy noir” as the title suggests and on these nine tracks of slowly delivered guitar-led utter minimalism the ex certainly takes a battering on some of them. The video release for the first track, ‘Falling’ has him performing a strip and pole dance, just for her, in the sort of club Saga Norén might frequent looking for casual sex, watched by mime artists, before they go their separate ways on the otherwise deserted opposite platforms of a railway station like something out of Brief Encounter. He may not have been quite the sleazebag she portrays but she excels in that exposé.
Emmy the Great might have ‘Almost had a baby’ but on the second track here, ‘No Baby,’ it is Elle Mary calling the shots. And there is another super piece of wordplay:
“He was a firm man, a firm man; when will I feel him, hard beneath my feet”
But there are other aspects to this album, too. Elle Mary dedicated the album to her late father, the inspiration for ‘Undead’ in which she pleads to his “maker” that she might find him, somewhere, “blooming in thickened skin”, words she used to title her debut EP last year.
And he is also the subject of the final track, ‘Later’, which is delivered in a more upbeat manner and which gently berates him for not having left her later, “When your passing wasn’t my problem” in a manner somewhat reminiscent of ‘The Living Years’.
In between those two songs, surprisingly, falls what is probably her best-known one as she typically ends live sets with it. ‘Behave’ takes us back into broken heart territory and logically should follow ‘Falling’. Musically it takes a similar path to the other tracks but flares up twice in a way none of them does, culminating in a pointed instruction to the object of her derision, after pleading to know what he has learnt, that he should “go F*** himself”.
‘Happiness’ she sings, is a relief and is delivered to a funereal beat and in which she “applauds the empty show” we saw in the video for ‘Falling’.
‘Pretend’ is one of only two tracks which allow her any musical scope – in the main, musical sparsity goes hand-in-hand with lyrical intensity throughout – which is a shame because she has the ability to create atmosphere through her guitar and assorted gizmos, and is well on the way to doing it in the two minutes she allows herself here.
The other is ‘Dark’, ostensibly an ode to depression – “Easier now to just stay indoors… Easier now to just fall apart… Seeing is mud, thinking is fog, you’re always here to take me back, Constant unfailing night” but which unexpectedly moves up-tempo then erupts into something Santana might have contributed before returning to the trough of despair.
Despite the best efforts of ‘Ocean’, which vies with ‘Falling’ as the easiest-to-casually-listen-to track, Constantly Unfailing Night isn’t going to elbow its way onto the Radio 2 playlist anytime soon and there will be plenty who can’t and won’t get it because they simply don’t do slowcore, or sadcore as this really is. But Elle Mary’s songs deserve close inspection because just like Apple, Moss and Lily she‘s a poet who just happens to put her words to music. She also has a pretty good voice, though it isn’t really tested on this album.
‘Constant Unfailing Night’ is released on 9th March 2018 and is available via multiple formats at https://ellemarymusic.bandcamp.com/album/constant-unfailing-night