Peggy Sue’s latest album is aptly named. Despite opening with the bleakest of instrumental tracks, Chorus of Echoes is firmly centred on vocal performance. Rosa Slade and Katy Young’s voices echo and accompany each other in a sequence of chant-like choruses. Each of the tracks is structured around the interweaving of the two lead voices, with beautiful results in tracks such as “Figure of Eight” and the startling “Idle”. The harmonies are note perfect; even the brief forays into atonality are made in tandem.
The nu-folk pedigree is clear to see, sounding in places like a female-centric Fleet Foxes (and indeed, the Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal” seems a significant influence), Peggy Sue offer both convention and innovation. “Always Going” and “How Heavy the Quiet That Grows Between Your Mouth and Mine” are the albums most identifiable nods to tradition. They are lilting and sad and more than a little inflected by southern Americana. Alternatively, “Substitute” and “Electric Light” are backed by a subdued drum with electronica accompaniment that owes more to Goldfrapp and even mid-career U2, than they do to the folk tradition.
Somehow, despite this range, Chorus of Echoes drags in places. Too many of the thirteen tracks are unremarkable. The final three tracks are especially forgettable, particularly the closing “The Errors of Your Ways” which somehow manages to sound like an inferior re-hash of each of the other dozen songs that precede it. The weakness of these last three tracks is especially disappointing coming, as they do, immediately after the album’s high point in “Longest Day of the Year Blues” and “Idle”. “Longest Day” isn’t really a blues song at all, instead it’s a wry and wistful lament accompanied by doo-wop backing vocals and a sing-a-long chorus. It’s a satisfying indulgence in an album otherwise lacking in upbeat or ‘catchy’ moments.
“Idle”, however, is Chorus of Echoes’ best song. At times almost acapella and at others seething with Olly Joyce’s intense drumming, it is a powerful interruption to an otherwise rather placid album. In between the pleasant first half of the record and the malaise of the closing tracks, “Idle” shocks the listener back to attention; a reminder that nu-folk can be raw and unsettling rather than soothing.
Chorus of Echoes is a solid entry in an increasingly busy folk revolution, it is beautifully produced and the voices really do sound exquisite, albeit a little monotonous in places. It feels like the majority of the tracks please without leaving a mark; however, the presence of “Idle”, and to a lesser extent, “Substitute” along with “Longest Day of the Year Blues” suggest that Peggy Sue do have something distinctive up their sleeve that is yet to fully emerge.