The first of a proposed Three Colours-style set of EP releases from Oxford songstress Tamara Parsons-Baker – the idea being that each EP will be a different colour to represent different dimensions of Tamara’s persona – ‘Lover’ EP has a white cover because it is “the simplest and most musically sparse” of the series. Those of you who’ve followed Tamara’s career so far will no doubt know her for her role in Huck & the Handsome Fee and as the front-woman of Tamara & the Martyrs – both bands with no shortage of melodrama, theatrics and shifting dynamics. This solo EP strips the formula bare to just a voice and an acoustic guitar (with a few embellishments from producer Martin Newton) and in the process casts aside Tamara’s winking, sassy band persona in favour of a more straight-forward singer-songwriter one.
First track ‘Hang My Picture’ is one of Tamara’s better-known songs, a song seemingly destined for radio play with its timeless emotional sentiment and powerful, musical simplicity. This is in fact a re-recorded version of the song and it benefits from Tamara toning down the in-your-face emotion in her voice to a more palatable and realistic lament; it’s as if she has realised that she’s only competing with herself and so has chosen to compliment her compositions rather than try to outdo them. ‘Crying Wolf’ falls into a similar category, sharing the same tone but with some interestingly fast-paced and wordy lyrics which speak of a relationship breaking down in spite of itself. Along with ‘Get Him Out’, a song which becomes more complex and ambiguous the more times you hear it, these songs are well written, heartfelt and intimate.
The two other songs take things in a decidedly different and unexpected direction. EP highlight ‘I Stuck It Out’ is a chamber-pop murder ballad, with a slightly Medieval chord progression and excellent cello and harpsichord accompaniments. The chilling conviction in the low notes of the lyric “So I took your children instead” recalls Nico’s deadpan vocal delivery, while the overall tone of the song beautifully balances the sombre subject matter with the flights of fancy and madness at it’s core. It’s easily one of the best songs written by an Oxford artist in the past year.
If anyone was ready to write Tamara off as a typical singer-songwriter they should listen to final track ‘Lover’ which purposefully subverts the sappy piano ballad, beginning with the lyric: “I can tell he cries / Into his tablet at night / Stabbing a titted figurine in the groin with a pin / For all the wrongs he thinks I’ve done him.” What could have been a cloying, optimistic end to an EP full of hurt turns out to be a story of damaged masculinity, presented with all of the violence that the topic suggests.
When one hears that a singer-songwriter has released an EP called ‘Lover’, one tends to fear the worst – but Tamara has written five subversive songs about love gone wrong, either by neglect, infidelity or madness. Tamara Parsons-Baker: not your average double-barrelled Oxford singer-songwriter.
(Note: although I’m not normally one to do a plug, I must mention that the artwork was done by the excellent, one-of-a-kind Toni Le Busque. Check out her work here – show an artist some love).