There’s a case to be made that Tender Prey aka Cardiff-based musician Laura E Bryon is one of the most under-appreciated talents currently producing music in Wales: a dusty gem that’s been hidden away for too long. Sure she was nominated for the 2015 Welsh Music Prize for her debut LP ‘Organ Calzone’ and has recorded two 6 Music sessions for Marc Riley. She has supported Cate Le Bon, Jane Weaver and The Lovely Eggs on tour. And yet, the feeling remains that her music hasn’t quite reached enough eager ears over the M4 that it should have. Maybe we can help redress the balance a little, or maybe give it a try eh?
Her second album ‘Falling Off Chairs’ is an idiosyncratic art pop delight, sinewy guitar lines, sleazy baselines and widescreen drum clatter simmering below: each song opening another window on Bryon’s vivid flights of fiction and fact. At times it bears comparison with Syd Barrett‘s solo work as framed by some particularly twisted 60s psych pop : multicoloured nursery rhymes laced with just enough fragments of bitter reality and musical twists and turns to keep you on your toes, like the best mazes to get lost in for the day it’s an imagination that constantly unsettles, confounds and delights at every turn.
Opener ‘Riot of Smiles’ is disarming, Bryon’s first person narrative and Welsh flecked, Nico-esque tone leading you by the hand through a troubling domestic situation suffering from a communication breakdown, the “doo doo” 60s girl group backings are the perfect counterweight to Byron’s darkly comic couplets (“Nobody laughed when everyone died but they didn’t do anything anyhow“) and the minimal percussive trembles and surfy guitar licks that clamber up stairs.
Recent single ‘Dot 3‘ tiptoes through a desolate wilderness with dainty footsteps, Bryon’s echoey sinister sketches are slithered with Clinic– esque guitar licks before crashing into crescendos that sound like landmines exploding with every trend. It’s frankly bonkers yet totally brilliant!
‘”I’m a joke on his arm/ladened with my lazy charm’ sings Bryon, on the twitchy psych-pop of ‘Catch the Ball’ an absurdist collision of relationship push and pull, self-examination and fragments of autobiography riddled with playful choruses. The reverb-heavy ‘The Peach Grumbles‘ is less Roald Dahl more Lewis Carol, its playfully raw sound is characterised by sea -sawing percussion and sickly sweet art pop lulls you into a false sense of security before larruping you to a pulp with a double blow of crushing guitars and stompy sinister swamp music. Closer ‘The Thing To be’ shows off the influence of Bryon’s previous solo incarnation as Le B, her microscopic eye for revelatory lyrical detail “I don’t need to be somebodies, baby/but I don’t want to be somebody’s, baby/The thing to be desired is to be desired” It’s a stark moment, a self-confident masterclass of songwriting laced with the ghosts of early P J Harvey, this muted shimmering darkness garnished by hammond organs.
Not everything here is a winner or even makes you reach straight for the repeat button but each song adds to the picture, for those who like their music with a surprisingly playful off-kilter edge and a lyrical twist in the tale then this ‘Falling Off Chairs’ is a winning long player. Welcome to the wonderful, disorientingly dark world of Tender Prey, frolick in this record’s absurd realities, luxuriate in Bryon’s talent for unsettling left of centre pop for the afternoon because quite frankly it’s marvellous, for my money she’s up there with her contemporaries Gwenno and Cate Le Bon.
Falling Off Chairs is out now on Tequila Worm Records.
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