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Lonelady – 'Hinterland' review

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In March 2010, Julie Campbell emerged fully formed as LoneLady from apparently nothing more substantial than two brief EPs and delivered Nerve Up, a monochrome debut album built from barely a drum machine and a telecaster. Stark, steely and sombre at first, Nerve Up became more welcoming with every passing listen as its frost thawed, its microscopic cavities opened up to reveal fascinating intricacy and its dry, purposeful production nagged at the ear; by the time Campbell had played a handful of low-key festival shows that summer, it was proving itself a worthy contemporary of records like The xx’s equally bewitching and publicly adored debut. But then, just as quietly as she had emerged, Campbell disappeared.

Exactly five years on, LoneLady has resurfaced with a follow-up that on first inspection could have been written immediately after Nerve Up: the teutonic minimalism endures, as does the arid production and Campbell’s desperately fragile, quivering vocal. Indeed, the two records are more similar than they are different, and unarguably built from the same deliberately simple blocks of programmed drums and two-note riffs. Repeatedly, however, Hinterland brings a new richness to its arrangements that allows its songs to develop from spiky bursts into longer, more addictive grooves – Nerve Up’s palette of a plectrum over a guitar string is augmented by earthy cello on the title track, and the stunning Groove It Out’s panoply of cowbells and synths playing one-finger motifs help generate a sense of a roomful of instruments all gyrating as one, like a robotic reimagining of Parliament at their most expansive.

The effect is frequently mesmerising – serene and simultaneously invigorating, like a pummelling massage – and Campbell’s ability to maintain this feel across virtually the entire album makes for a terrifically fluid record. Indeed, even when Hinterland breaks free of the unerringly precise percussion for the haunting and darkly beautiful Flee!, midway through its second half, the sudden rush of looseness remains just as engrossing as the previous strictures.

Five years to follow up a record is an awfully long time in the currently fevered, grabbing climate of post-everything pop music – but by the same token, countless second albums are made hurriedly and limply, and end up taking their authors down with them. With that framing, the longer you listen to Hinterland the more you realise how wisely Campbell has used that time to make a second album with its own independent substance as well as a sense of growth: “Put a record on, make a connection”, implores Campbell on Bunkerpop, making the phrase jump out of the song with a vocal shake, and in doing so provides perhaps the plainest example of how much of a progression Hinterland actually represents from her debut.

If Nerve Up felt made for lonely listening during fidgety walks at yellow-grey dusk past dim building sites and fly-tipped mattresses, Hinterland is without doubt still in that post-industrial postcode. But Hinterland also carries a more muscular and inclusive warmth to its outsiderness, and hints repeatedly at a sense of community brought together by dance music, in the same spirit as the 80s raves that the record clearly reveres. Campbell’s progression is slight, but nuanced all the same: with Hinterland, LoneLady is still making music for abandoned car parks – but this time, there’s a sense that people might just be dancing in them, together.