reviewed by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
Poppy Ackroyd’s fourth album could hardly be a more personal document. Written during the pandemic, it is a first-hand account of life being put on hold – but at the same time tells the story of the birth of her son. Often the newborn was asleep on the composer as she wrote at the piano, while other work was done in the rare free moments the new mother was allowed.
What’s the music like?
Ideal for this time of year. Although a piano album there are a lot of imaginative sounds and colours not normally associated with the instrument, as Ackroyd stretches its capabilities. Not content with using the conventional white and black keys, she leans into the piano to utilise the taut strings, creating effects like that of a harp or harpsichord.
Suspended, for instance, is performed with both hands inside the piano, using a mysterious tapping sound like someone knocking on the window. Meanwhile Muted was recorded using cloth to dampen the strings in the piano’s lower half. The resultant pinpricks of melody are rather beautiful. Pause itself is a combination of conventional sounds and the inner strings, the music effectively set for two instruments as it extends its icy tendrils.
Impulse uses a wider range of the keyboard, with an easily flowing discourse that suggests it was written with a white flash of inspiration, using simple but expressive figurations that become gradually more expansive. Release enjoys its freedom, showing how Ackroyd’s titles are accurate descriptions of what happens in the music.
Perhaps the most vivid imagery can be found on Murmurations, which captures the rediscovered love for nature a lot of us have felt in recent times. The swirly give and take is compelling to the listener, especially on headphones.
Does it all work?
It does. Ackroyd’s work as a pianist is completely free of any mannerisms or clichés. It is a purely instinctive and personal piece of work, which means it flows beautifully as an album.
Is it recommended?
It is. Pause is an accurate reflection of the emotions we all felt during the pandemic, but it is an ultimately positive piece of work, making the most of freedom where it has been allowed. Ackroyd gets the balance of natural piano work and manipulation just right, her instrument blessed with some lovely autumnal textures but also an intensely personal communication.