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Minnie Birch Minnie Birch
Album: Tethered
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 12

I first encountered the music of Hertfordshire-based singer-songwriter Minnie just five years ago; her EP Settled impressed me mightily (and that was before I found out that her talent had been prominently endorsed by Joan Armatrading). I described Minnie’s method as “ethereal storytelling”, by means of chillingly apt yet often enigmatic lyrics, her fragile yet haunting voice and deceptively simple supporting chord structures and patterns built from minimal resources. A couple of years later, in summer 2015, Minnie followed the EP with a brilliant and attention-grabbing full-length album, Floundering, which, musically speaking, further developed her distinctive songwriting identity in a series of disturbing fairytale-like ruminations, again complemented by the additional presentational enhancement of a fabulous package sporting intensely attractive and entirely in-tune-appropriate artwork by David Jacques (Minnie’s dad). Floundering definitely belied its title in one respect – it was a significantly assured album – and it was also a jaw-droppingly intense artistic statement, and an incredibly hard act to follow.

Nonetheless, Minnie’s followup album, Tethered, bravely follows the tried-and-tested pattern of its predecessor, notably in appearance and style of presentation, to which it conforms, being an obvious companion-piece – though at times it can seem a distinctly more nightmarish counterpart, with a quota of more uncomfortable imagery to illustrate its continually disturbing fairytales of relationships won and lost (and indeed all points in between). The new album’s production is by Lauren Deakin-Davies (who’d been responsible for Light Switch, the official final track of Floundering), and its sound world is more detailed, delving further into instrumentation but in a very subtle, almost subliminal sense – in that (I would infer from the lack of personnel credits on the sleeve) Minnie would appear to be playing more parts in her own right, ever so gently fleshing out the texture with responsive lines and fills. For one song (Burning Fire), though, an ominous, primal percussion rhythm is Minnie’s sole accompaniment. In contrast, Vultures is viciously grungy, and Emeralds limpidly ornate in its layering.

One may even choose to take the respective album titles literally, considering the words’ meanings, and thus might infer a more (perhaps willingly?) claustrophobic aura to the imagery and feelings evoked. Closeness can be both comforting and disquieting, and Minnie’s intimate musical expression and spookily confidential vocal delivery reflects the conflicting pull of emotions around relationships and their success or failure (sometimes both states simultaneously). Minnie makes great capital out of the “spaces between” in both music and lyrics, in order to express and contextualise key emotional responses. The songs really breathe, not least I suspect because they’ve been road-tested over the past two or three years before attaining studio realisation.

With Tethered, Minnie has produced another strikingly individual album, full of songs that really mean something, for all that they can be genuinely very scary. And just as with its predecessor the disc has a delicious bonus track tucked in at the end, carefree and untethered.

David Kidman

Apologies thought this was up, but it was a launch review not album review. ed.