Intangible (7Hz Music)
There’s going to be better from Amy Montgomery than this already good first-for-us EP, but in one sense what comes later won’t be a huge surprise.
For one, it’s clear there will be a willingness to rip back facades of decorum and deflection when it comes to matters such as grief and the balancing of mental health. What she feels, we will know.
Secondly, she is just as prepared to rip back any coddling of vocals or instrumentation if necessary, to play with sound but also to pare it to its essence. What she knows, we will feel.
In Old Photographs – here in a live version of voice and piano – Montgomery takes us through stages of knowledge (not just grief) of parental loss, or any loss really, and the adulthood that follows where physical mementos are not necessarily more stable than memories. Her voice sometimes teeters on the line between raw and ragged, on the line between expressive and overwrought, but somehow still feels true even in its moments of seeming overreach.
This will be a fault line in years to come between fans and non-fans, and possibly within the fandom, as her levels of expression veer between forceful and florid. However, that in the end she pitches up somewhere between Moses Sumney and Fiona Apple (whose influence on Montgomery can’t be underplayed) gives you an indication of the frankness of the feeling balanced by the solidity of the musical shape in this set.
In a similar vein of intensity is her cover of Sharon Van Etten’s Jupiter 4, done here without the dominant presence of that eponymous bit of ancient machinery which sparked Van Etten’s last album. It offers a dark, echoing chamber of piano, bass and drums through which Montgomery’s voice sounds like it is living the line “baby, baby, baby I’ve been searching for you” and discovery isn’t necessarily going to fix anything.
This is not the only route taken by Montgomery though. The early walking-with-a-desert-haze guitar line of Anywhere is reminiscent of Tucson’s Calexico, but it shifts gear into something Muse, with the bombast dialled back, might recognise: rock pomp edging its way gradually as the song progresses. Likewise, Dangerous enjoys its own classic rock (think 1973, moon-related, roll-your-joint-on-the-cover) expansion from introspective to sky-gigging.
Different yet again is the EP’s title track which has a chorus thick with ‘90s overlays of squally guitars and synths, pushed-through drums and air-pressed voice – did she borrow Butch Vig as producer for this song? - that doesn’t so much lift from the lighter, almost shimmering verses as drag them in its wake.
Within its density is a lyric that draws from the heat of hurt and disorientation that can weigh on a spirit, but, like the music, pulls you through into something actually hopeful. It sets the intent of the EP, and of this Belfast artist, from the start. Now we know some of what’s possible.