Emma Pollock – The Law of Large Numbers

January 01, 1970

(Chemikal Underground)




Delgados co-guitarist/co-vocalist Emma Pollock went solo
after the Scottish band’s amicable split in 2005 and issued her debut, Watch the Fireworks, on 4AD in 2007. The
album’s blend of atmospheric, almost shoegazey textures and fizzy indiepop
showed bundles of potential, and for the new Law of Large Numbers, she wonderfully fulfills that potential even
as she thwarts easy expectations. Produced by another former Delgado, Paul
Savage (who happens to be Pollock’s husband), it’s being billed as an
“unconventional” recording, and that’s not a bad way to characterize the dozen
songs’ mélange of baroque pop, vocal-heavy arrangements, Dixieland jazz and vintage
Prog flourishes, and rhythmic changeups.


Aficionados of Britindie and art-rock will swoon for much of
this material. Chief among the highlights: the thrumming, rippling “I Could Be
A Saint,” with its brittle guitar riffs, subtle Terry Riley-ish keyboard
undercurrent, and yummy girl-group choruses; the angular, postpunk-flavored pop
of “Red Orange Green,” which cleverly utilizes a morphing lyric motif (the
heart’s “beat-beat-beat,” a door’s “creak-creak-creak,” a clock’s “tic-tock,
tic-tock”) to provide the tune with an insistent percussion theme; the hypnotic
“The Loop,” a minimalist, part-round, part-a
number that instantly summons images of a certain traditional
Christmas song (I won’t spoil the surprise); and the carnivalesque “Chemistry
Will Find Me,” whose lurching/wheezing/menacing, almost Tom Waitsian
arrangement contrasts delightfully with Pollock’s eyelash-batting, precisely-yet-seductively
delivered lines that make her sound she stepped right off the screen from Moulin Rouge. (Pollock’s friend and
Domino Records recording artist Adem guests on the latter track.) Unconventional,
indeed, is the operative term here, because for such a wee gal she’s certainly
got a room-filling voice, and the big ambitions to go with it.


Less wieldy, perhaps, is the lyrical concept being pushed:
Pollock wants to draw a parallel between the titular theorem (about predicting
probability outcomes in, for example, gambling with dice) and how in life and
love, humans are prone to calculate risk and expectation even in the face of
the natural world’s randomness. Thematic conceit alert! Nevertheless, the music
and Pollock’s clear-as-a-bell vocals more than make up for whatever potentially
dubious topic she wants to sing about,
so let’s split the difference and say she’s entitled.



This album, incidentally, marks a homecoming of sorts for
Pollock: the record is released by Chemikal Underground, which the Delgados
established in the early ‘90s to champion the then-burgeoning Scottish underground,
issuing records by the likes of Mogwai, Arab Strap, Aereogramme and, uh, Magoo.
I’ll confess to being only an intermittent fan of the Delgados themselves, for
during their decade-long run, although all the “right” indierock tastemakers (Pitchfork, Magnet, etc.) sang their
praises, their penchant for trying on other band’s hats – Sonic Youth on one
album, Pavement the next, the Pixies another, and Flaming Lips yet another –
suggested a group flailing around for an identity. That said, each album did
contain kernels of brilliance, and had they continued they just might have
broken through.


Law of Large Numbers,
however, is just good enough to make me want to revisit Pollock’s voice in its
original context, and with that in mind I have no doubt that I may also eventually
reassess my opinion of the band. After all, being a rock critic means never
having to say you’re certain.


Standout Tracks: “Red
Orange Green,” “Chemistry Will Find Me” FRED


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