The basement of multi-storey pizza-parlour-slash-bar-slash-nightclub-slash-performance space YES (who, for having a pizza called Psycho KALE-r, have already won me over – if there’s one thing I like, it’s Bob’s Burgers-esque food puns). This closed-up, super-intimate area bathed in otherworldly blue glow, a venue that feels off-the-radar, underground (figuratively and literally), is the ideal place to witness something special.
Opening with Sonic Youth-like behind the bridge strumming, Hussy – stage-name and singular vision for multi-instrumentalist Sophie Ellison, tonight fleshed out into a full band – gently coax into life – discordant shimmering guitars feel soft-focus and ethereal, softening the otherwise harsh, jagged melodies into a warm rush of noise, an effect magnified by the use of hazy dual vocals. Hussy have crafted and perfected a nostalgic mixture of shoegaze textures hovering over college rock structures (lots of Pixies-esque quiet verse/loud chorus setups). In the words of noted philosopher of our time, R. Wiggum: “that is so 1991”, of course, this is not a bad thing by a long shot.
There is a beautiful fragility here – waves of dreamlike crystalline echo wash over dissonant harmonies as Sophie’s voice mixes with the palette into a musical equivalent of impressionism. Everything changes as Hussy’s set draws to a climax, as the guitars are traded for sweeping cinematic synthesisers and programmed drums- the soundtrack from Singles morphs into Drive. Shades of Chromatics resonate as Sophie’s voice breaks through, climbing above the now-dissipated fog, still keeping in the dreamlike state that Hussy firmly inhabit.
Chicago outfit Lala Lala are perfectly suited to their environment, their songs clad in icy minimalism and played with clockwork precision, not unlike The XX or even Wire. Everything sounds deliberate, not a note out of place, with singer Lillie West’s quiet, unassuming tone drawing the audience in further. In fact, it could be argued that the use of quiet – silence, even – could qualify as an instrument in its own right, skilfully deployed to add tension to songs, with notes and phrases left hanging, reaching out into the void. Like Hussy before, Lala Lala’s songs take cues from Pixies and The Breeders – particularly with ‘The Flu’, with its wobbling, off-kilter guitar tones and Lillie’s vocals melding freely across the music, a sharp contrast to the almost mathematical pinpoints of before. ‘Dropout’, a feature from 2018 album ‘The Lamb’, takes a slow-build approach with Mo Tucker-style drumwork gradually building up and evolving into a soaring, dramatic dreampop anthem, reminiscent of ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’-era M83 with glacial wordless vocals filling every available space.
‘Siren 042’, the latest release from the quartet, is a collaboration between themselves and Yoni Wolf of WHY?. Primitive in composition yet sophisticated despite its simplicity, augmented by ghostly string and vocal samples that fill the gaps in the band’s minimalism, creating a dense backdrop for them to stretch and work around, while set closer (and final track on The Lamb) ‘See You At Home’, with a heart wrenching Roy Orbison-inspired country twang, conjures up images of the Twin Peaks roadhouse, even moreso with addition of a hauntingly romantic, hazy saxophone playing out from an invisible bandmember before spiralling to a gentle stop, like a music box slowly winding down, as the beautiful lucid dream of the evening rolls to an end. Time to wake up.
Words and photos by Liam Moody. Lala Lala + Hussy performed at YES on Tuesday 19th February 2019