Hinterland. Edgelands. Wasteland.
It seems to me that, for all my life (writes Andy Wood), these are the places I’ve played in, wandered, contemplated and explored. Brought up on the outskirts of the city there was no shortage of derelict sites, abandoned quarries, building sites, former factories and the ruins and relics of the distant and recent past to venture into and claim as our own.Sometimes we went to these places with parental warnings not to venture there ringing in our ears. Sometimes we found places our parents probably weren’t aware of but certainly would not approve of us visiting, far less playing in.
This fascination, obsession even, has never left me and has probably grown over the years. I’m fascinated with the histories of places that no one seems to care about or care for, of the remnants and relics of erased, forgotten places and people. For many people these places are blots on the landscape or areas ripe for levelling and developing. In some cases they are, for the most part, out of sight and out of mind.
I liked Lonelady before I’d heard a single note of music. The title of the second album Hinterland piqued my curiosity immediately. An interview with The Quietus had me hooked.
Julie Campbell is Lonelady, an artist who revels, inhabits and dreams in the in-between places, who sees beauty and possibility in the decay and dereliction of the parts of Manchester that the North West Tourist Board ignores.
Certainly bands and artists have previously developed from and expanded upon a mythology of place; Joy Division and The Smiths being two of Lonelady’s most illustrious predecessors. However, this Manchester is now a well known mythology of the post-industrial city, complete with landmarks, iconic images and tourist trails, iconographic and instantly recognisable. Lonelady deals with the post-industrial debris and wreckage, a landscape not fixed but forever shifting and changing. Perhaps Campbell’s closest aesthetic peers are The Fall, particularly the Mark E. Smith of Industrial Estates, strange happenings, hauntings which evoke a world in flux where futures and pasts collide in the present.
Essentially I purchased Hinterland on a hunch, taken by the concept above all. True, John Doran’s article in The Quietus discussed other Mancunian ghosts in Londelady’s sound. Influences such as A Certain Ratio were mentioned and caught my attention. I bought the album and looked at the packaging over and over again, trying to fathom out what it would sound and feel like. Finally I played the damn thing and haven’t stopped since. Of course I was my usually late self, arriving at the party well after everyone else but, really, I don’t care. Travelling backwards can be fun as well.
Hinterland opens with the austere, eerie ‘Into The Cave’ with its taut rhythms and industrial percussion. Sure it has precedents but, most importantly, the song wears its influences lightly, making something beautiful, equal parts propulsive and claustrophobic. ‘Into The Cave’ is beautiful, full of space, evocative and moving. ‘Bunkerpop’ is edgy and infectious with a gorgeous chorus. Whereas a number of bands in recent years have drawn on post-punk as a sound or template Lonelady uses it as a launchpad to develop and aesthetic all of her own. Most importantly there is no snobbish or ironic stabs at funk and pop but an embracement of it making the songs engagingly wonderful.
Title track ‘Hinterland’ is probably the album’s most beautiful moment which is saying something on an album that can be pretty euphoric and transcendental. The song is a luxurious mix of punk-funk-electronica and a nagging hook and moments of sublime dissonance. The lyrics paint a picture of longing and dreaming:
I look outside beyond the dirty window
To find what I once knew long ago
A grainy detail, a former trace
And I’m trying just to find that place.
‘Groove It Out’ seems to be constructed out of the simplest of rhythms but is rich in textures and makes me think of another Manchester – of ESG or Madonna at the Hacienda, A Guy Called Gerald making unearthly, esoteric but rooted music in a towerblock. Formerly industrial spaces, transformed and dreamt into places of magic and beauty. ‘(I Can See) Landscapes’ is sparse and disorientating with an ominous atmosphere with just Campbell’s voice carrying the melody. The verses give way to an elegiac chorus and its all over before you get a grasp on something solid giving way to ‘Silvering’ which is both frenetic and restrained and utterly wonderful, an absolute endorphin rush of a song.
Silvering is the process by which glass is coated with a reflective surface to create a mirror and like much of Hinterland, looks both inwards and outwards:
And I wander in this endless territory
Through the distances inside me.
Crossing the territory inside
It wants to keep me in here.
It’s probably the most expansive song on Hinterland, sharp and bright, extolling the pleasures of the drift and evoking a sense of awe in the little things dotted in the landscape, ‘the cracks, silvering.’
‘Flee!’ strips things right back with its simple, elegiac feel, built around a simple, treated Cello and flourishes of sound and it is totally haunting, even chilling.
Flee to the outskirts
The ground is crumbling.
The sky is falling
Where to go I asked
Neither man nor beast could answer me
Frozen was their speech.
For the first time on Hinterland the feeling is of being lost, of being wholly incapable of finding bearings in the landscape, of a sense of threat where spectres are ‘everywhere’ There’s an undercurrent of unease throughout Hinterland but ‘Flee!’ brings it to the fore yet it never becomes oppressive despite apocalyptic images of buildings sinking into the ground. ‘Flee!’ is a reminder that the hinterlands can also be unsafe, even threatening – places where people go to do things they don’t wish to have witnessed.
‘Red Scrap’ is glacial and enervating. Lonelady takes us back to slightly safer, more familiar territory, a post-industrial riot of colours and ghosts of the recent past, where machinery rusts and ‘ghost trains rumble by … and it seems so long ago’. The instrumentation is elegant, the vocals moving. ‘Mortar Remembers You’ suggests a retreat of sorts with the repeated refrain of ‘I had to build a room to contain all the panic’’ but it’s only a partial retreat as the ‘world creeps in at the edges’. Like the hinterlands of any city, change is not far behind whether in the form of nature regaining a grip, graffiti, new uses, either permitted or unauthorised, or levelling for development, and the mood shifts from darkness to light, full of gentle changes in mood. It rounds things off perfectly.
Hinterland is pretty much one of the most wonderful records that I’ve had the privilege to hear in a long time. A rich, joyous album that truly rewards total immersion and repeated plays. It reflects the way that the forgotten edgelands are neither necessarily totally urban nor rural but often somewhere in-between. Hinterland is no rally against a decaying country or a simple celebration of the pastoral but something more complex. It is an incisive, inventive and utterly compelling celebration of a part of the fabric of the land we rarely see or contemplate, of walking and thinking and ultimately dreaming.
And it is a set of brilliant songs as well.
Here’s a video for a song from the record:
Hinterland by Lonelady is available from Warp now.