Kathryn Williams is the anti-diva. Over several albums and collaborations, the Liverpool-born, Newcastle-based singer-songwriter has made a virtue of huge emotions expressed with quiet restraint, lyrical pith and a complete absence of melodrama and empty gesture.
This she has largely done with the Britfolk primary colours of acoustic guitar, upright bass, discrete drums and her clear, sweet, deliberately intimate voice: a voice that pushes every emotional button by way of a unique clarity of purpose and tone. A strange, compelling kind of blankness.
So Williams fans might be forgiven for insisting that the last thing they want her to do is start anything so routine and vague as a band. But The Pond is exactly that; a three-way collaboration between Williams, former Fairground Attraction member Simon Edwards and Ginny Clee, latterly of The Dear Janes. And the good news is… it’s like Kathryn Williams, but with more stuff going on.
Mixed by Portishead’s Adrian Utley and dominated by low-tempo electronic beats, it’s tempting to be lazy and call The Pond trip hop. But this debut is all done with far too much subtlety and experimentation to go down with a case of the Morcheebas.
There are strong folk elements woven into the electronic noises, feeling organic rather than bolted on. Williams’ lyrics still sound like a sad, smart girl sitting against a tree and capturing lateral thoughts about the meaning of life. And many of the tunes – The River, Art of Doing Nothing, Circle Round a Tree – are among the prettiest and most sensual of her career. Indeed, The River’s extraordinary blend of harmony pop, bhangra and something mysterious, tribal and wild recalls The Dreaming-era Kate Bush – not praise to chuck around lightly.
A couple of the more experimental tracks don’t entirely come off, particularly the gothic faux-dubstep of End of the Pier, and the awkward Bebop, which chucks Gene Vincent, Fleetwood Mac, Duane Eddy guitar and a somewhat mediocre rapper called Kirsch into a pot which appears fun to stir but a mess to eat. But even here you can’t help admiring how far Williams has strolled out of her comfort zone.
Plenty of credit must go to Edwards and Clee, particularly the latter with her outstanding harmonies and gorgeous lead vocal on Hard Shoulder. The Pond, then, are a really good band. And there’s nothing vague or routine about this elegant, charming and quietly profound record.
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