[REVIEW BY STEVE RASTIN]
When Kiera Bickerstaff and Tommie James left Dyserth and Prestatyn respectively to head out into the big wide world, they were really no different to the thousands of other students who annually swap the relative tranquility of North Wales for the mean streets of the big bad city.
Kiera headed for Leeds, while Tommie held his compass the wrong way round and ended up in Bristol, though he eventually managed to find his way northwards and onto the city that, much to the chagrin of Sheffield, calls itself the Pride of Yorkshire.
Mention the city of Leeds to this writer and I’ll wax lyrical forever about the greatest football team on the planet and, should I break into song, it’ll be to sing “El Loco Bielsa” to the tune of “Seven Nation Army” – albeit very badly!!!
To be fair though, the city has spawned a respectable number of my favourite musicians over the years with Gang Of Four, Sisters Of Mercy, The Mekons, Alt J, Gentlemens Dub Club, Soft Cell, Nightmares On Wax, Utah Saints and the mighty, mighty Delta 5 all having links to the city (just don’t mention the bloody Kaiser Chiefs or I forecast trouble).
If there is any justice left in this world – a forlorn hope in 2020, I guess, but let’s be optimistic for 2021 – the next name to be added to the city’s role of musical honour will be Ava In The Dark, a band who’s name is sufficiently beguiling to have me wanting to like them before I’ve heard a single note.
They’ve been steadily gaining an excellent reputation around their adopted city and have now unleashed a new EP called “Delete Us Forever” across all the usual platforms on their own Blind Night Records imprint.
You don’t generally see the word “delete” in song titles so I suspect that there was a certain amount of subliminal suggestion in play when Wolf Alice – specifically their “Don’t Delete The Kisses” single – immediately sprang to mind as “Delete Us Forever”s title track began to work its magic on me.
It’s a glorious confection of bubbling synths overlaid with a nagging keyboard motif that is eventually beefed up when the guitar breaks in three quarters of the way through, but by the time it arrives you have already been enslaved by Kiera’s voice which shifts from breathy and ethereal to urgent and plaintive and back again as the chorus kicks in and out.
“Affections” is next and it boasts a punchier, more percussive intro that gives way to a stripped down, almost jaunty sounding verse before the chorus wades back in, jabbing away at you like a boxer setting up their opponent for a knockout blow.
Not all KO’s are delivered with a big, haymaker punch though – any old pug will tell you it’s the ones that you don’t see coming that are the real killer blows and this is surely true of “Still”, which starts with a shuffling electronic percussion line, some simple muted piano and a few random electronic FX that act as the canvas across which Kiera gives a bravura vocal performance of depth, passion and maturity.
Final track “Bad Friends” begins with a music box chiming, somthing that always scares me stiff thanks to the entrance hall to the ghost train at Alton Towers (if you know, you know!!!), and the song proves to be suitably unsettling, its almost-but-not-quite sweet melody line warping into strange and unsettling shapes, almost as if it’s locked you into a sonic hall of mirrors and you’re unsure of whether you want to try to escape or not.
Production-wise, the EP is astonishing because the whole sound is based on texture and in order to keep things interesting there is the need for an endless array of invention to be brought into play, and this is duly delivered across all four tracks consistently.
“Delete Us Forever” has also pulled off a very impressive trick in the sense that it sounds absolutely contemporary but which, had it been released in the early 1980s golden age of synth-pop, would have co-existed quite comfortably with that scene’s biggest hitters.
Hopefully 2021 will allow the band to take these songs out on the road and you can bet your bottom dollar that this writer will move heaven and earth to bring them to North Wales, but in the meantime we can simply shut out the world, slip down the rabbit hole and wander around the wonderland created by Ava In The Dark.