Dense, personal and strangely anthemic fifth album from Catalonian singer.
‘Hardcore From The Heart‘ is an album steeped in contradictions. Joana Serrat writes beautifully fragile and diaphanous songs then surrounds them in arrangements of muscular force and intensity. In fact the effect is a little like the arrangements Daniel Lanois built around Emmylou Harris’ voice on ‘Wrecking Ball‘. But Serrat sounds nothing like Harris. Serrat’s voice is both deep and authoritative and ethereal at the same time: equal parts Tanita Tikaram (and there’s a comparator I haven’t thought about for many years) and Margo Timmins.
The whole concept is beautifully demonstrated in the atmospheric opening track ‘Easy’ which swells and ebbs creating a soundscape that consumes the listener. The same ideas are used throughout, but to different effects. First single, ‘Pictures’, turns up the jangling guitar lines, but that swirling soundscape is still there providing a secure base for the up-tempo melody.
Serrat comes from the Catalonian city of Vic, not far from Barcelona, but recorded this album in Denton, Texas. She used some great musicians to build these soundscapes including Jesse Chandler on keyboards and Eric Swanson on pedal steel. But it is the production, the full and symphonic sound achieved by Ted Young (who has worked with Sonic Youth and Kurt Vile), that is the album’s hallmark.
Like the hollow thump of the drumkit on ‘You’re With Me Everywhere I Go’ paired with the build of the organ and vocals mid-way between a whisper and a roar. Sound engineer Heba Kadry has pulled out all the stops to create an all-encompassing atmospheric sweep.
More contradictions pile up. The songs are wonderfully evocative and poetic; which initially seems to jar with the album’s title which is derived from the title of a book by pornographic actress, turned feminist activist, Annie Sprinkle. But they are exploring the experience of being a woman in a society where concepts and ideas are forever shifting and we need to be conscious of who we are so we can hold on despite the shifting sands. ‘Demon’, the second release from the album, addresses this: “I just reached the conclusion that I didn’t need to be fixed by love, by anything or by anyone.”
The album closes with the pairing of the wonderful ‘Hotel Room 609‘ which trembles with pent up emotion, the apogee of the swelling, anthemic ethic and the quietly, acoustic understated ‘Wild Beast‘.
Ultimately it is this clash between strength and fragility, between quiet introspection and swelling, anthemic sounds, that characterises ‘Hardcore from the Heart’. Serrat has supported Neko Case and their music shares this clash between the personal and the performance: between exploring yourself and presenting it to others.