Provincials, the Hampshire-based trio of singer Polly Perry (formerly of Polly & the Billets Doux), guitarist Seb Hunter and drummer & pianist Steve Gibson release their new album Heaven Protect Us via Itchen Records on 4th February. It’s a genre-sprawling journey, growing from their dark folk roots and spreading its tendrils into realms of classic rock, indie disco dancefloor fillers, dusty country rock, sci-fi theramin squiggles and even the odd moment of funkadelia.
We asked guitarist Seb to guide us through the album, track by track.
Heaven Protect Us opens with a psychedelic funk epic ‘Planetary Stand-Off’. Kicking off with lone handclaps before building into a propulsive towering Zeppelin / Funkadelic wah-rawk tower of power, Polly lets loose her inner Janis Joplin as she summons forth an astro-sonic statement of cosmic intent, her Moog theremin casting jagged sparks across the blasted firmament. You’d never believe this was written on an acoustic guitar.
Second track ‘You’ll Evaporate’ all hangs off a metronomic Phillip Glass piano line, a cold lyrical blast at the blackly cynical incompetence of the Conservative ‘government’. A bleakly poetic protest song, with a bleakly poetic theremin ‘solo’ protest halfway through – the sound of sheer disgust.
‘Cold Fusioneers’ aims back skyward, a euphoric motorik with gigantic pop hooks and a vocal struggling with its own place in love – our most recent single.
Track four, ‘Outskirts’, is more traditional Provincials territory – fingerpicked Bert Jansch-style guitar with a haunting vocal from Polly, then train track clatter drums escort the song down the line into darkening twilight.
‘Feels Like Falling’, another single from 2021, and a live favourite, follows – a Tom Petty-esque country rock tune, owing more to the Felice Brothers or Wilco than Pentangle or Big Thief.
‘Kiss of Life’, track six, my only lead vocal on the album (though it turns into a duet) – another fingerpicked, close-miked, hushed intimation – its coda unexpected pillars of Elliott Smith / Beach Boys harmonies stacking higher & higher.
‘Conveyor’ was the first single release from the album, a glorious aching pop tune building into an ecstatic harmonies & strings climax with a captivating lovelorn existentialist vocal from Polly.
‘Amaranth’, track nine, a half-improvised track in the original foreboding Provincials style, it’s all about the darkness – tonally, lyrically, musically, pianistically – it’s an autumnal paean to freedom in a doomed relationship.
‘Midnight Skaters’, another structurally improvised song, ‘written’ in the studio while it was being played, is a different beast entirely – a simple, romantic tale of midnight love on the ice – with beautifully nimble spontaneity between the guitar & drums, speaking to one another through the cut-glass mist – much a result of me & Steve’s having played in improvisational trio Crater together for most of the ‘00s.
‘Corrugated Zion’ is built around a classic major-minor blues ache with a minimalistic guitar figure underpinning throughout. Then about halfway through, the free jazz drum track kicks in, to splatter the relentless pop art free-poetical lyrical flow with yet-further propulsive chaos.
The album finishes on our perennial live show-closer ‘I’m Not Dancing’, an end of the night drone downer for e-bowed guitar & piano, with a black as pitch late-period ABBA vocal serenading us out into the darkness. Heaven protect us, indeed!
Heaven Help Us is out on 4th February via Itchen Records
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Introduction by Paul Maps