Album review: Hayley Ross – The Weight Of Hope

Hayley Ross the Weight of Hope

Hayley Ross the Weight of Hope - Credit: Archant

Hugely promising, confidently accomplished debut from talented songwriter and instrument hoarder.

Brighton resident Hayley Ross apparently spent four years working on this debut record, so its title certainly feels apposite even before you consider that it was mixed by John Leckie (of Stone Roses fame) and mastered at Abbey Road studios.

But the big names are quickly forgotten once Ross gets under way. The 13-song set features evocative sound beds of birdsong and thunderstorms, alongside a menagerie of instruments and ideas all captured by Ross on tape at home before she ventured anywhere near a studio with the recordings.

There are subtle but welcome appearances from a musical saw, crystal wine glasses and a psaltery (a type of zither) in amongst harmonium, stylophone, cigar box guitar and other more conventional instruments.

Despite the myriad ingredients, the self-taught musician keeps her songs expertly focused, compelling and distinctive - from breezy, pastoral English folk to darker, elemental arrangements seemingly drawn from nature itself.

To these she adds some cathartic lyricism reflecting on love and other aspects of the human condition, sung with a pretty voice that evokes Icelandic singer Emilíana Torrini, dashed with Lana Del Ray and Noughties popstrel Kate Nash's estuary English, and can leap from dusky to powerfully soulful.

The languorous Tumbledown Love, with its warm cello and twilight guitar, rubs shoulders with acres of space in Big Black Car, her voice framed by tip-toeing percussion and brass until she lets it off the leash in Florence Welch-ian style - an effective device deployed again to bookend the brooding swell of electric guitar and brushed percussion in Moving All Around.

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What's remarkable is the album's consistent quality control and how Ross' songs often hide their musical complexity in plain sight.

Differing styles are eagerly embraced while somehow maintaining momentum and atmosphere: Ross doesn't miss a beat whether delivering dainty piano romance (Lay Me Down), fingerpicked folk ditty (Jangled), Spector-ish Wall Of Sound (the soulful Come Back) or darkly ethereal lo-fi rock (See Her Light's low-slung vocal and bass guitar notes, spiked with spindly sitar-like notes, tambourine and harmonium). Oh, and she throws in a half-French, half-English delivery in deliciously evocative opening gambit Dernier Baiser [Last Kiss] to boot.

It's rare for a debut record to be so assured and engaging in its variety - surely everything Ross could have hoped for.

4/5 stars

Hayley Ross plays The Green Note, Camden Town, on March 4.