It’s not often that a band’s comeback album is also their break up album, but it seems for London trio Woman’s Hour that transition was a wholly necessary thing.
Then a foursome, Woman’s Hour arrived with a luminous cool in 2014 with their debut ‘Conversations’. Their clean, monochromatic aesthetic brought a real charm to their dream pop ways. This wasn’t the light-in-the-dark movements of Beach House; it was more the minimal cool of The xx as seen through the eyes of Bat For Lashes, something where emotion made up for the sparsity of sound.
However, the period between then and now saw relationships in the band become strained. The band unofficially split during the recording of their second album ‘Ephyra’. The weight of it all became too much but, rather than just let it fade away, Woman’s Hour reconvened a year later to finish it. ‘Ephyra’, then, becomes transformed into a record of that time.
It’s an unusual process, coming back to the album that was the source of such a fraught atmosphere to finish it a year after calling it quits. Using it as a way of reconciling with their feelings, it makes the result a lot more impenetrable for anyone outside of the room it was recorded in.
With things written so openly as to have titles like ‘From Eden To Exile Then Into Dust’, it’s clear what Woman’s Hour want to say. But, where ‘Conversations’ felt intimate, ‘Ephyra’ puts up a wall. It’s hard to emotionally attach yourself to it, such is the focus on each member trying to reckon with their emotions. It becomes a cathartic therapy session for the band that keeps the listener on the other side of the door.
Luckily, Woman’s Hour are still able to compose some gorgeously sparse spaces for their sounds to sit. ‘It’s A Blast’ captures that feeling of trying to make sense of everything perfectly, where it almost feels as though you’re weightlessly floating in your own personal void. Things are off-kilter; the expected twisted ever so slightly.
Opener ‘Don’t Speak’, meanwhile, twirls around Fiona Burgess’ ghostly vocals, before the dancing synths give way to a beautifully serene and meditative state as Burgess echoes “Bringing it all/back home”.
‘Ephyra’ very much feels like the product of a band on the verge of collapse. It’s sometimes beautiful, but, more often than not, frustratingly perfunctory. Emotions feel on a knife edge, while clashes of style are explosive, each member tugging you in a different direction leaving you with nothing but a sense of wanting to get out of there.
However, it also feels like an imperative document that the band needed to put together, flaws and all, to move on. And when that beauty does shine through, it makes you realise what a pleasure it was to have Woman’s Hour, however brief it might have been.