Penfriend – Exotic Monsters 

Release Date: 21st May 2021

I made the mistake of reading Laura Kidd’s list of achievements before reviewing this and now I feel terribly inadequate about what I’ve done with my life. However, the great thing about Kidd – the mastermind behind Penfriend – is that she never has an air of haughtiness or superiority, preferring to focus on the work and the inclusivity that creativity affords us. This is the first album under the Penfriend moniker, but it is perfect for where we are right now as a world and a culture.

The album opens with recent single and title track ‘Exotic Monsters’ which sets the scene with it’s synthetic dystopian landscape emerging from the smog as a warning of what’s to come. ‘Seventeen’, by contrast, is more of a kick ass indie-rock anthem with elements of Belly, Veruca Salt and the Cooper Temple Clause all running through this anthemic track. The third member of this opening trio is ‘Hell Together’ which has a brooding riff and ominous beat underpinning Kidd’s unblinking vocal that doles out home truth after home truth as you take the slow escalator down to Hades.

The Numan-esque sinister synth squelch of ‘I Used To Know Everything’ is both haunting and beautiful but as the song builds up you start to see the real kernel of this song appear from behind all the armour and lasers. The alarmingly titled ‘Dispensable Body’ is a dreamy 80s-indie inspired ballad while ‘Seashaken’ leads with a piano melody and soulful but sad vocals which give this the feel of Kate Bush guesting on a Fleetwood Mac track. The hypnotic vocal harmonies at the start of ‘Loving Echoes’ feel like a Hot Chip track before the song evolves into something which is layered, ethereal and quite possibly from the future (the one where we survive but music has been driven underground by an authoritarian government).

The wonderful thing about this album is that Penfriend keeps you guessing with quick switches on style, tempo and vibe. ‘I’ll Start A Fire’ is a great example of this with its Hole-meets-Lush vibe and grungy guitars that hark back to the She Makes War days of Kidd’s career. ‘Cancel Your Hopes’ keeps this vibe going with urgent guitars paired with impatient drums and a keyboard melody with a short attention span like Maximo Park and Young Knives writing film music in a dark basement surrounded by neon and mushrooms. The pace slows on ‘Long Shadows’ but the sinister film noir energy is turned up a few notches before ‘Out Of The Blue’ takes us to the last stoop in the universe to sing a cyber lullaby to the passing debris before the sun comes crashing down in to last of humanity.

‘Black Car’ is the track that plays while the credits roll up and Penfriend drives her hover car off into the distance leaving a trail of beautiful destruction in her wake. Penfriend is amazing as a vehicle for the work of Laura Kidd but the real triumph here is that Kidd is able to turn her hand to so many different styles and still maintain her superb quality of song writing. I am going to put this firmly in the running for album of the year and put Penfriend in the category of one of the most important artists in the UK (and way beyond) right now.

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