Album Review: Abbie Ozard – let’s play pretend EP

[LAB; 2021]

Escapism is important – not just in everyday life, but also (and perhaps especially so) in lockdown life. To have that channel in which you can blankly (or intently) put your focus can help block out the surrounding doom of the world, allowing for that brief but oh-so-necessary respite. Sometimes it’s a TV show, sometimes it’s music, but sometimes it’s just good old fashioned daydreaming. Manchester-based musician Abbie Ozard seems to understand this, and her new EP, let’s play pretend, conjures this distracted gaze across four tracks of brightly-sheened indie pop.

Not intentionally writing to capture this theme of wandering imagination and romanticisation, Ozard realised a common theme in her work and decided to wrap four tracks up together (three of which were released across 2020). Carrying on from her 2019 EP Growing Pains, Ozard is still fidgeting in her seat to find a style and aesthetic that is entirely her own, but here on let’s play pretend she sounds more like she’s breaking free from the bedroom studio and taking in the outdoor sunshine.

Opening track “pink sky (endless summer)” bursts into view like a blistering beam of light, sounding simultaneously ready for the summer season after a long winter and also entirely worn out by the heat of a July sun. With a guitar line that sounds taken straight from 2007 shoegaze-leaning indie and also like it’s on the verge of breaking into The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me”, it’s a bright blast of familiar-feeling energy but also one that feels somewhat overwrung and overdone.

One does wonder if let’s play pretend might have left the listener more satisfied if Ozard had veered away from comfortable song structures. There’s not much of a case to be made complaining about a 12-minute long, four-track EP, but a couple of tracks here still feel like they could have bowed out that bit sooner and had a more tantalizing effect. If “breakdowns” cut away it’s final 30 seconds nothing great would be lost, and the desire to repeat the track would be increased. Similarly, the upbeat chorus of “pink sky” would feel less diluted if Ozard snipped its final iteration from the track. “I want to do what everyone else does,” she sings fittingly on “breakdowns”, and that might just be the main issue with the EP.

Ozard also brings to mind another rising star working in a similar aesthetic, that being Ailbhe Reddy. While Reddy leans more into the guttural yearning of peers like Julien Baker, she still places important focus on tender, intimate moments (as evidenced on her debut album). Going forward, it would be great to hear more gentle stripped-back moments from Ozard too. Tracks like 2018’s “average disguise” added layers of instrumentation, but didn’t compromise the Laura Marling-like sneer and biting tone in her voice, while Ozard’s affecting rendition of UK Christmas classic “Stay Another Day” (originally by East 17) felt like catching her finger-picking away on her electric guitar on a lonesome, heartbroken December day.

This all considered though, let’s play pretend is still a brief delight, and it will no doubt bring more radio plays and streams for Ozard. “tv kween”‘s pastel chorus is as sticky as superglue, and the way it seems to evoke the essence of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” only helps its charm, while “true romance”‘s joyful driving-with-the-wind-in-your-hair feel soars over a welcome layered backdrop of wooden keys and digital and live drum tracks. It’s in these instances she sounds at her most separated from reality, occupying the space and feeling in her songs. The daydream-esque quality is plain to hear and it makes it all the easier for the listener to fall into the imagined world with Ozard. It’s pure escapism and it’s the kind of thing everyone needs at some point.