Every once in a while, those nice Picky Bastard head honchos bestow an album upon me. Listen to this, they say. Let us know what you think. When these bestowals occur, I endeavour to unplug my ears and listen, in the first few instances, without knowing anything at all about what I’m listening to. I don’t type the band name into Google. I don’t Wiki. I just press play. I might close my eyes. I let myself be abducted, blindfolded, in the back of a musical van and see where I end up. Such was my initial experience with Penelope Isles.
First time through, I was struck by a vocal style not dissimilar to Juliana Hatfield or The Primitives’ Tracy Tracy and a sound that veered between coruscating (Elastica by way of Courtney Barnett), delicate (arpeggiated guitar noises akin to early Smiths but produced with more modern finesse a la The Dears) and sort of neo gothy (think Lisa Germano circa Excerpts from a Love Circus). So you switch from a song like ‘Chlorine’, which opens the record in scratchy guitar riff country, detour via a song like ‘Round’ (firmly in Smiths country) and end up with ‘Not Talking’ (sort of glum Cure b-side). Ah, your humble listener thought, I’ve got the measure of Penelope Isles – and I like it!
So then I started reading around some. Brighton band. Older brother hooking up with his somewhat estranged kid sister and her mates to record. The cover of the album is a pic of their dad taken by their mother on the day they met. So there’s a strong familial undercurrent. Lily Wolter’s vocal dominates (and if you like her style you’ll get a big kick out of the record, it will feel familiar to you really fast, something you’ve known a long time) – but brother Jack shows what he can do too (on ‘Three’ which showcases the dreamier aspect of the band).
The song at the heart of the album, though, is ‘Gnarbone’, a seven minute plus howler straight out of the Pale Saints playbook. We recommend you go straight to Go and listen to this song now. You can consider it seven plus minutes very well spent. Then, if you like what you hear (and why wouldn’t you? It’s a smasher, a belter and a banger all rolled up into one?), go back and listen to the rest. Yes, Penelope Isles are in thrall to a certain kind of golden age indie but who isn’t? They’ve sunk their teeth into us and like the unsubtle music pushers we are we recommend you bare your necks and let them sink their teeth into you too.
Words by Pete Wild