3.5 out of 5 stars
(Mound Silver Records/Soundly Music)
Many won’t recognize Wallis Bird’s name even though she has been creating challenging music since 2007. Perhaps album number seven will change that.
The singer/songwriter was born in Ireland, lived in London, and is now based out of Berlin. She has released six studio albums, a live set, and some EPs, finding an audience in Europe that appreciates her eclectic, often non-linear, oblique talents. Bird’s swooping sound has morphed from jazzy alt-folk to a complex, frequently elaborate, art-rock that borrows from Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson, and Peter Gabriel.
The cover of HANDS shows a blurry, black and white photo of Wallis’ hand, which with its half pinky (the result of a freak lawnmower accident when she was young), reflects the darker themes at work. It’s one where the singer/songwriter reaches out for connection in lyrics of songs such as “Go,” “What’s Wrong with Changing,” and “I Lose Myself Completely.”
The approach is predominantly based around electric keyboards over which Bird and producer Philipp Milner layer multiple instruments, generally with programmed drums. Bird’s voice floats and sails, shifting from defiant to insightful and meditative on the pop/prog of the closing suite “Pretty Lies.” The latter, with its pandemic images of It was a long-ass year/Couldn’t wait for it to end/Full of loss and fear, mutates from pensive clattering.
She traffics in thumping club beats on the wry “F.K.K. (No Pants Dance)” and gets intimate for “I’ll Never Hide My Love Away,” a dedication to friendship that is bare and sparse with Bird’s soulful voice controlling the narrative as an eerie violin solo injects a shadowy, pointed twist.
Each track snakes through several changes so multiple spins help the listener fully absorb the multifaceted sonic and literary intricacies. Bird’s inventive confidence stems from working on the fringes of alternative pop for 15 years, exploring angular areas of music with style and passion. The result is this impressive work which finds the artist at her most sophisticated, experimental, and at times danceable.