The measures that Lizzy Farrall has undergone to find her artistic feet so quickly have been quite impressive to see unfold. What began as a pleasantly folky pop-rock sound on debut EP All I Said Was Never Heard was muscled out of the way without haste on its follow-up Barbados, a ground-up reworking that saw Farrall slide further into the lane of sleek, distinctly ‘80s-inspired alt-pop. What could’ve been a pretty rough gearshift in hindsight actually ended up being a cogent artistic evolution that’s done quite a lot for Farrall, raising her profile within the scene beyond its humble roots and serving as almost a preview of sorts for her debut full-length Bruise. A solid number of those tracks returning here would definitely mark that as the case, and for any accusations of laziness or capitalising on past successes that could be raised, the implications of Bruise being a wider-aiming, more open version of what Barbados offered do seem to be substantiated by what’s been made to be as seamless a transition as possible.
And that’s pretty much exactly how Bruise goes down, albeit with some of the more explicit ‘80s worship toned down and replaced with some of the more standard alt-pop trappings. It’s not really surprising that’s the case, and to Farrall’s credit, she can at least carry it better than so many others, simply through a fantastic knack for pop songwriting and knowledge of melodic construction that takes an altogether rote sound and breathes a bit more life into it. It’s not an exact science and of all the sounds pulled from the deeper alt-pop well, they aren’t all winners, but the simple fact that the effort is there speaks a lot to Farrall’s status as an artist whose creative drive hasn’t been dulled, despite what could easily be perceived as such in the move to ‘safer’ musical territory. That’s ultimately not the case though; there’s unmistakable passion behind Bruise, and the product of that is a lot more engaging because of it.
It’s a good thing too, as a less willing artist could’ve easily taken the post-breakup frustrations and ruminations of this album, dulled them down to their absolute bluntest form and freewheeled to the results – it wouldn’t be the first time. Fortunately there’s more to Farrall than that, and while the broad arc is effectively the same, there’s a lot more detail to freshen it up. For one, Farrall isn’t immune to the brunt of her own criticism; a track like Games might see her as tired of a lack of reciprocated effort within the relationship, but she’s open about a similar shortcomings from herself on Gas Lighting, and feelings of inadequacy faced when she sees her ex move on to someone else on Barbados. And when those flaws morph into a need to cling on to happiness and satisfaction regardless of how damaging they might be on Yellow Paint, it highlights the realism injected into Bruise and how far removed it is from the more clandestine ‘critiques’ in a lot of alt-pop.
But even on the most surface level, there’s a lot about Bruise that still rises above its contemporaries, most noticeably an irrepressible catchiness that takes the refinement of the ‘80s influence peppered through the album and pairs it with a more modern sound. It’s going to be hard to top Knight Rider in any capacity for its glittery synth backdrop and guest vocals from Emarosa’s Bradley Walden that feel like an effortless fit, but the dreamlike echo of Love No More and the Danger Zone-aping synths and bass of Barbados definitely come close in nailing down where Farrall’s greatest strengths lie. And what’s refreshing about that is she doesn’t restrict herself to those limits, and even if the ends results aren’t always as good, the flexibility in Bruise’s sound is still good to see. There might be some production that’s a bit too loud and intrusive where the mix can feel overly crushed, and that doesn’t help when it’s paired with already lumbering cuts like Gas Lighting and Knocked For Six (or, conversely, the opposite issue of having barely any presence on Okay), but when the alt-pop template is as notoriously rigid as it is, to see someone like Farrall at least playing around with it a bit and seeing what she can achieve is still welcome, if only to isolate the best possible results. And that’s something she does well; Bruise might be a noticeably uneven listen, but the standout moments are incredibly strong, especially as foundations to build on going forward.
It’s in the vein that Bruise doesn’t feel like the finished article in terms of Farrall’s artist progression, but it’s a considerable next step to ending up there, in that it’s a great example of ideas being tested and honed for future reference. That in itself might be a flaw that’s difficult for some to overlook, but there’s really nothing about Bruise that feels like a first draft or like a release that doesn’t have a great deal of thought put into it already. As a collection of songs that, in its own right, takes such a bog-standard sound and finds its own workable configurations of it, Bruise really does do a good job, and if this is the stepping stone needed to find an even better, sharper point to focus on, it definitely feels worth it.
For fans of: Pale Waves, Emarosa, Fickle Friends
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Bruise’ by Lizzy Farrall is released on 27th March on Pure Noise Records.