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Permanent Vacation (Spunk)

While hardly a comic performer, Emma Russack has offered some laughs before, sly lines and outright funny ones too. I still have a giggle when her Sex On The Beach turns up on a random play or compilation (it’s a top mixed tape surprise incidentally, for future reference) and she’s got other witty lines and occasionally bouncy numbers across a couple of albums.

Permanent Vacation, despite its title suggesting an idealised life of leisure and having been written during a period when some money coming in meant Russack didn’t have to do supplement her music income (musician joy!), isn’t going to be mistaken for a funny record. (Though Everybody Cares is darkly amusing.)

It’s not black-sky/wind lashing-vacation grim, but it is principally low temperatures and occasional scudding grey clouds across a low-lit sky. It is mostly a little odd and it is rather satisfying for that.

There are subdued but nonetheless attention-grabbing pop songs here, such as Migrationwhich opens the album as a kind of hunched over an acoustic guitar confessional that reminds me of Lisa Miller’s sublime Morning In The Bowl Of Night, and All My Dreaming, which even at six minutes-plus is but a punchy drum line + 12-string Rickenbacker away from a jangly ‘60s gem.

However, Russack downplays – without ever hiding – those elements most of the time, rewarding you with their sweetness after you’ve taken in the complex shadows she casts across them.

Body Goals comes in with rolling drums and almost chanted lines, hints of electric folk for some retro touches and acid-tipped lyrics about social media judgments for some modern moments. Think of it as the beginning of a bad trip, the hints of some oddness to come.

Free Things is a lonely soliloquy beneath winging bats, missed opportunities and the ghost of a male voice just behind Russack. The Way is starker still, abandoned piano ala-Sophie Hutchings, disembodied vocal atmosphere ala PJ Harvey’s White Chalk, and something unsettling in the offing.

The ointments in this fly (ok, work with me here, I’m trying to find the right mixed metaphor) are the title track and Dream Man, which are the moments of holiday sun breaking through.

Permanent Vacation goes the full Brazilian: bossa nova feel, droll but not dry Astrud Gilberto delivery, the sense of sun on the back making dissatisfaction hard to sustain. Dream Man has a dinky rhythm box beat over which Russack comes across like a novitiate tempted by that rather spunky young priest, her expectations – or at least ours as we brace ourselves – cut off as the song ends before the action starts.

There’s a sense of that with Permanent Vacation overall, the stories of this album caught mid-telling, as if we’ve walked by an open window and grasped just enough to intrigue but not enough to explain it all.

You will want to walk back past those windows, playing the album again to see if you pick up a bit more next time. It’s a good way to spend a vacation.

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