Bitter, self-consciously beautiful and occasionally haunting; ‘Holden And Jane Holding Hands’ is the third release from Aphrodite Lion. A five song EP that’s more of a mini concept album about love and relationships, it’s a challenging release from a duo who possess obvious strengths but, perhaps wilfully, fail to always use them.
Opening track Abelard And Heloise begins with an acoustic guitar hook that quickly leads into darkly poetic lyrics (a feature throughout the record) which rehash the famous love story, but focus firmly on its gloomy aspect. Anne Graham’s voice is confident and clear, as she wraps the lyrics in a twisting melody that’s nicely augmented with harmonies at the chorus. The instrumentation is sparse which gives her voice and the lyrics a sense of immediacy.
The title track follows and brings a marked shift in tone. Again it opens with an acoustic guitar riff, though it’s more bright and upbeat than what came before. Despite having lyrics inspired by The Catcher in the Rye there’s none of the opening track’s melancholy. Holden And Jane Holding Hands has cute sentiment, a wonderfully catchy melody and honest simplicity. This makes it a wonderful song and the undoubted highpoint of the EP.
Unfortunately it goes downhill after that, as none of what makes the title track great crops up on El Niño. It’s a meandering, discordant, impenetrably dense song that sounds like PJ Harvey or St. Vincent, but without their edginess. Having kept proceedings sparse and restrained so far, Aphrodite Lion throw the kitchen sink of studio trickery at a song that’s not good enough to handle it. As a track it never really gets going and suffocates under layers of murkiness and gimmicks.
The fourth track Terminal tries to lift the EP again with a gorgeous swirl of vocals and strummed guitars. It doesn’t let its plaintive lyric drag it down as much as the opening track does, and it ends up striking a nice balance between the freewheeling Holden And Jane Holding Hands and the more austere Abelard And Heloise.
Unfortunately on the closing track Shadow Sister, Aphrodite Lion again attempt the dark atmospherics of El Niño and the song suffers a similar fate. The EP ultimately peters out, and though some nice a cappella harmonies form a gentle coda of sorts, they can’t quite stop the EP sliding off.
Leaving aside the experimental tracks, this is a solid release carried along by some great moments. When Aphrodite Lion are in the mood and focused they are evidently capable of some great work. There are strong melodies with genuine staying power on the title track as well as the first and fourth cuts. In fact, the title track Holden And Jane Holding Hands is a brilliant song. Whether Aphrodite Lion want to make more like it is another matter. With a few releases already behind them they need to decide whether to bury themselves in dark atmospherics or push forward with a lighter sound.