The title of Poppy Ackroyd’s new album Pause works on a number of levels as it was created during the pandemic and shortly after the birth of her first child; both things that placed many aspects of life on hold. The album is made up of ten piano compositions which involve the strings being plucked like a harp as much as the keys are struck in the standard way and writing with a new born asleep in a sling close to her body left Ackroyd without the ability to manipulate, or multi-track, sounds in a music programme as she did on Resolve or Escapement: “it was important to me that every track on the album could be entirely performed with just two hands on the piano.”. As can often be the case, a limitation becomes an asset with each track becoming an exploration of mood, technique and expression.
The opening motif of ‘Seedling’ (inspired by spring mornings spent walking through Queen’s Park in Brighton) is delicate and captivating and makes a promise of beauty that the rest of the album easily keeps. The steady playing of the left hand allows the right hand to throw out glissando runs of notes like the scattered seeds of a dandelion head. ‘Suspended’ is the first track to play the piano strings like a harp, with dampened notes rooting the track while plucked notes linger over the top, and this is further explored in ‘Muted’ where a weighted cloth is placed on the strings to create an almost synthesised sound. This technique is enthralling to watch as you can see from the video for ‘Stillness’ below.
As you would expect from its name, ‘Murmurations’ is full of rotational piano notes that never seem to settle and create the same seemingly random patterns exhibited by the flocks of starlings that swoop over Brighton at dusk. The title track, ‘Release’ is a warm breeze gently moving sheets hung out to dry, and both the title track ‘Pause’ and ‘Impulse’ offer the most contemplative tone of the compositions. ‘Stillness’ feels like the middle of a hot night, ‘Flutter’ “brings us back to nature with the thought of butterfly wings” and the final track, ‘Unravel’ is a fitting coda to the album; a weightless mix of chord progressions that allows us to drift and float towards a Zen state.
The tracks on Pause are lighter than air; a held breath. They have the weight of an eyelash and the buoyancy of a flotilla of bubbles and the constantly shifting patterns and subtle repetitions become hypnotic and intoxicatingly soporific, very much like the video for ‘Seedling’ made by Jola Kudela (below). The album casts its spell early but continues to draw you in with the poetry of its notes and, gradually, you can’t help but succumb to the sheer heady beauty of it.
Review by Paul F Cook