Limerick-born Elaine Malone has been a stalwart of the Cork music scene for over a decade now. Prolific as MANTUA, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has also been a member of punk band Land Crabs, Krautrock-inspired Soft Focus and the Lisbon-based Pôt Pôt. Her debut EP, Land, was relased in 2018 to critical acclaim, noted for its accomplished lyricism and multi-faceted instrumentation.
Pyrrhic marks a sea change in Malone’s artistic journey. Recorded by Cathal MacGabhann of The Altered Hours, the album brings together the talents of long-time collaborator Sam Clague (Crying Loser), James Christie (The Bonk) and Ruairi Dale.
The album showcases a vast array of influences. Opening track ‘Open Season’ seemingly sets the tone, with its kaleidoscopic, shimmering guitars and steady rhythm, building to a wall of noise in the track’s latter moments. This is seamlessly followed by the spiralling lead lines of ‘Dark Rooms’ and the shoegaze-heavy ‘Moontread’, a melodic and emotional high-point for the album. The dense layers of My Bloody Valentine-esque glide guitar allow Malone’s measured soprano to soar.
After this opening triplet, we see an immediate departure. ‘The Hunger’ is a psych-poetry freakout that calls to mind Malone’s earlier work with Soft Focus, while ‘My Baby’s Dead’ is lead by twangy, reverb-soaked psychobilly guitar lines, with Malone adopting a ‘60s chanteuse croon. Lead-single ‘Eat Out Of Your Hand’ is a barbed slice of post-punk barely restrained rage (“Object of adoration / You’re of no consequence”).
It’s an album that seems to work in three acts. ‘Stupid Hipster’ is a mournful ballad that deftly blends dream pop with old school rhythm and blues. Think ‘Sleep Walk’ if it had been covered by Cocteau Twins. This is true also of ‘Nothing Is Real’, with drum fills reminiscent of early rock and roll in its opening moments. Sandwiched between them is ‘Sin Eater’, which leans into shoegazing wall of noise techniques, feeling a little out of place but no less beautiful in its composition.
Pyrrhic showcases an artist with many strings to her bow and more than enough skill to pull them. A mesmerizing listen, if at times forgoing cohesion for stylistic diversity, the album packs more than enough emotional and compositional punch to stand out.
A fine, promising debut LP.