Album Review: Lucy Gooch – Rain’s Break EP

[Fire; 2021]

Bristol-based artist Lucy Gooch first gained traction with the looping and layered 2020 EP Rushing, but her latest release, Rain’s Break, boasts renewed command and curiosity of her form. For her new five-song collage, she looks to the past for inspiration, to a time of uncertainty not dissimilar to the precariousness of our current moment.

Gooch was mainly influenced by the technicolour films of the English filmmaking duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, frequently referred to as The Archer Brothers (the name of their production company), who made some prominent propaganda films in the 1940s. Their richly produced and performed works offered brief respite from the austereness of wartime, and this sense of escapism is what Gooch wishes to capture in Rain’s Break; atmospheric and ambient music has always offered plentiful opportunities for this.

There’s something intriguing about this yearning for escapism though, for an artistic manifesto by Powell and Pressburger explicitly stated that “No artist believes in escapism. And we secretly believe that no audience does.” So films like 49th Parallel and One of Our Aircraft Is Missing were transparent boosts to British public morale, the pair attempting to counteract the Nazi cinema of Joseph Goebbels. Their films were, in other words, realistic and concerned with the present moment.

Gooch, then, sees their films differently, feeling passion more for the technicolour vividness of the pictures rather than the mordant narratives. And all of these tracks, with their swirling synths and grand layers, are vivid compositions. All of them sweep into consciousness from a scene of silence, Gooch’s instrumentation awakening hesitantly.

The EP begins with “Rain’s Break”, a track which sounds optimistic for what’s to come. The following “It Brings Me Back To You” comes closest to capturing a cinematic quality, with its crashing drum beat and shimmering and unnerving synths. “Chained To A Woman” is a quieter middle track, building slower and not reaching the exultant heights of the rest of the EP. “6AM” follows (an apt title, for Gooch seems naturally gifted at scoring the dawning of a new and hopeful day), ominously sweeping over the listener, the stabs of synth lurking in the distance this time.

Her synth-based work has always enjoyed a particular focus on the use of vocals and it’s no different here. Her voice is angelic and sincere, vocalising phrases like “pitter patter” with curious empathy; “silence brings me back to you”, she repeatedly meaningfully sings in “It Brings Me Back To You”. Often, she performs similarly to Elizabeth Fraser from Cocteau Twins, but with less elusive delivery.

To the past again: the last song, “Ash and Orange”, was inspired by old recordings of women’s choirs from the 1930s and, once knowing this, the ambience takes on a tantalising but solemn beauty, its opaque surface hinting at the quietly observed lives of these people in that decade of war and uncertainty. Gooch layers her vocals, the resulting echo chamber holding all of those women’s voices both at once and not at all.

In the repurposing of art from the 1930s and 1940s, Gooch acknowledges the helpless cycle of history, and this work offers both reflection and escapism for this pandemic period – whichever is required for the listener. It’s an existential EP, blessed with a coherent aesthetic vision.