Louise Distras – Heartstrings on a Handgrenade E.P.

Posted: October 7, 2011 in Album Reviews, E.P. Reviews

Label: Unsigned

Release Date: 2nd May 2011

I’ve been sitting here for about ten minutes trying in vain to come up with one of my lengthy introductory rambles, so fuck it. I’ll get straight to the point on this one. A few days ago, just past 11pm,  I was killing time on Facebook before crashing to bed, when I stumbled onto the page of one Louise Distras, a female singer-songwriter from Wakefield armed with an acoustic. Just as the clichéd stereotypes regarding doudy women with oversized acoustics singing about not much of anything came to mind, something quite remarkable happened – her EP started playing on the website music player, and I was grabbed by the collar and thrown sideways by music crackling, bursting and overflowing at the seams with electric intensity and burning soul. The vocals growled, snarled, soared, cooed and barked, swathes of backing vocal harmonies flitted in and out, and the single acoustic guitar carried more pop sensibilities than an entire army of amplifier-toting posers. Three tracks played back to back, and my shock grew by the minute.  There’s no getting away from it, I thought – this is fucking awesome music.

It’s not often that I review a record in this style, but in this case I felt it necessary to document my introduction to Miss Distras’ music, simply because it’s been a very long time since I’ve been so stunned by new music. Sure, there’s been good music coming out, but nothing that has given me such a sharp kick in the bollocks as this, her second EP. There’s plenty of acoustic-guitar-toting punkers out there at the moment, a few of which I’ve reviewed on here and enjoyed a lot, and on this evidence, Distras has put herself directly at the forefront of the genre as it stands currently.

So why exactly has this EP been lodged firmly in my head of late? I hinted at some of the reasons why in the introductory gushings, and I’ll re-iterate many of them here. The tunes and guitar riffs are fairly standard acoustic folk-tinged punk fare, but they benefit from an excellent sense of songcraft – the melodies soar exactly when needed, hook into your earholes whenever they please, and flow with consummate ease – nothing feels clunky or out-of-place. The fact that all the three tracks are built on is a single acoustic, and perhaps some extra percussion here and there, makes it even more impressive – there are many artists who’ll throw the proverbial kitchen sink at their songs and they still won’t sound as catchy and effortlessly well-rounded as these.

But what makes the EP truly special is her voice – holy fuck, has this lady got a pair of lungs on her.   The obvious comparison to make would be to Brody Dahlle, but that’s probably too easy. Instead I’d draw parallels with Jake Burns, for sheer versatility of voice.  Sure, her whiplash bark and devastating holler carries more power and urgency than any number of screamo vocalists, but when she flips from that to warm cooing, softer tones and pure pitch-perfect soul, you realise just what a multi-faceted talent you’re listening to here.Her voice alone is the personification of great punk rock – pop melody blended with raw passion and energy, as well as an outlaw spirit and renegade soul integral in all great acoustic guitar-toting rock ‘n’ rollers. She has the heart-on-sleeve honesty and grit of Joe Strummer, and this comes across brilliantly in the lyrics, something the entire folk-punk genre often hangs its hat on. Just like the great man, Distras has the unique ability to pen a vocal line that in anyone else’s hands would be clichéd, but in hers it becomes the most evocative and stirring words you ever did hear, such as when she’s proclaiming that ‘maybe you should try and walk a mile in my own shoes/or maybe you’ll just die here and you will stay used’ on ‘Blue on Black’, or bellowing ‘Does it make you happy?/ Does it make you sad?/’Cause it makes me proud to be alive/And part of who I am/Does it make you anxious?/Does it make you mad?/Would it make you proud to be alive/ If you were half of what I am?’  on my personal favourite, ‘This Is Your Life’.

You know a record is damn good when the only criticism you can really find for it is that old chestnut, ‘it’s too short’. Artists generally drop EPs onto us as a way of drumming up interest and showcasing potential before moving on to a potential LP, and on this evidence, I literally cannot wait for the first album to drop. In the meantime, you owe it to yourself to give this trio of tunes a spin; with artists of Distras’ calibre around, rumours of the underground punk scene’s demise will have been greatly exaggerated.

Rating: 93%

Standout Tracks: All three of them.

Words by Adam Johnson.

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