Emma Anderson Closes a Loop and Opens a Door with 'Pearlies'

BY Eric HillPublished Oct 17, 2023

Whether or not Emma Anderson's first solo album was intentionally timed to arrive just a few months after 4AD reissued Lush's three studio albums, having the opportunity to be reacquainted with Anderon's former band's wall of sweetness and light certainly helped open the receptors for her solo debut. 

In their heyday, Lush were equally blessed and burdened by their associations, from early production help by members of Cocteau Twins and Talk Talk to their immersion in a rising tide of the just-coined Shoegaze scene, featuring heavyweights like My Bloody Valentine and Ride. Self-admittedly amateur early on, the band — and especially Anderson and her co-songwriter and frontperson Miki Berenyi — quickly grew into their skills as a keen atmospheric pop band (and the kind of splashy alternative music tabloid scenesters that are mostly a thing of the past). By the time the band broke up in the late '90s after the tragic suicide of drummer Chris Acland, their sound had bridged the eras between Shoegaze and Britpop. 

Both Berenyi and Anderson largely left music, taking straight jobs and embracing family life for a couple of decades. Anderson popped up in a supporting role in the band Sing-Sing in the early 2000s, but until Lush reformed for live dates and a very promising new EP in 2016, things were pretty quiet. The return was brief though, and Berenyi moved on to form Piroshka, leaving Anderson with a handful of new songs rattling around without a home.

Listening to Pearlies right on the heels of Lush's 1991 Spooky feels a bit like overlaying sets of fingerprints to solve a mystery.  Opener "I Was Miles Away" intros with simple organ swells that stand in for the guitar shimmer of yore before slowly introducing the layered swirls and squiggles that defined the besotted beauty of Anderson's earlier work. Undercurrents from '60s European film soundtracks bleed through in several places, anchoring the mood in a kind of late summer chill that tries to stave off longer nights with some melancholy "oooh-ooohs" and "la-la-la-las."

James Chapman, who serves as both producer and collaborator, approaches the work with a keen ear for detail, though most of his electronic elements are cleverly bundled and sunken in support of Anderson's glittering guitars and drifting vocals. More than anything, the pair effectively manage to touch on all the details that fans of Anderson and Lush might hope to hear without pandering or retreading old ground too heavily.

The slightly haunted Polanski/Roeg soundtrack vibe on tracks like "Taste the Air" and "Xanthe," where something sad or sinister might be lurking behind a bedroom door or in the half-light of a cobblestone alley, is counterbalanced by the punchy shuffle of "The Presence"; a Yé-yé song echoing through an empty rave warehouse. Both modes collide on closer "Clusters," announcing its approach with a rising guitar drone and a distant shaker rhythm and Anderson's assertion that, "Now the party's over / The music's at the end." It feels like a top tier Lush song and also the closing of a loop, one that exits as it enters, on a fading wash of guitars.
(Sonic Cathedral)

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