EP Review Nadine Shah - Aching Bones

If you like your wintry music full of pomp and festive cheer, then give this a wide berth.

With persistent comparisons drawn to musical luminaries PJ Harvey, Nick Cave and Bat For Lashes and with hushed speculation touting a future Mercury Prize in the pipeline, it’s difficult not to get caught up in the buzz surrounding Nadine Shah. With a storybook childhood Roald Dahl would struggle to better (Norwegian mother, Pakistani father; an adolescence overlooking the bleak and unforgiving North Sea) the press release all but writes itself. So. Just what is all the fuss about?

‘Aching Bones’ is a concise and compact EP of which the title track opens with menace and a dissonant rumble not unlike post-punk Goth-rockers Bauhaus. Haunting vocals are given space to breathe and wander in the mix, underpinned by the lurching, compressed bass while Shah’s sparse piano lends a more human dimension to the palette and a different texture to the ear. Ben Hillier’s guidance in the studio has clearly had an impact on the final product (his previous work with Depeche Mode, The Horrors and Beth Jeans Houghton all subtly apparent here).

‘Never Tell Me Mam’ is another foreboding tale of melancholy; a twisting fable of heartache complete with sorrowful, diva-ish vocals. Ostensibly a four-and-a-half-minute soundscape, the scarcity of ‘pop’ here - the distinct lack of 4 bar verse/chorus structure - brings immediacy to the otherwise ethereal; forcing the listener to do exactly that, to actually listen, to engage. The omission of said ‘poppiness’ is anything but a hindrance here, that is not to say it does not help showcase melody or a striking vocal style (think somewhere near Zola Jesus or Esben and the Witch), reinforcing its command and authority at the heart of the track. One minor issue (and it’s a very minor one at that), is that the song shows a little too much restraint. I’d like to hear a loss of control as the song builds; a crescendo of crashes, an apocalyptic flourish to finish, perhaps? Instead ‘Never Tell Me Mam’ exits in very much the same way it starts. But maybe that’s the point?

The 12 minute EP closes with Medieval-pop ode, ‘Are You With Me’ - another unsurprisingly sullen affair - this time complete with 15th century swagger: the ubiquitous anthem for the Game of Thrones generation, if you will. ‘Are You With Me’ roars towards its destination, the destination for the lovelorn: “So haway, come and take my hand, I have left it free for you”, decrees Nadine. It’s all splendid stuff but I shudder to think what sort of relationships she’s put herself through in the past.

‘Aching Bones’ more than lives up to the hype currently surrounding Nadine Shah. For me at least, she’s the sort of artist the fuss about Lana Del Rey should have been mothballed for. If you like your wintry music full of pomp and festive cheer, then give this a wide berth; otherwise, lap it up and embrace its gothic poignancy. And if you fancy a cheeky flutter (not that I condone gambling), you’ll get a decent price on this girl to win awards next year. A relatively safe bet, judging from this taster.


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