FOE – Hot New Trash EP

FOEtrashWhy is it that every time a female artist with alternative leanings begins a career, they’re never accepted as just being themselves? It seems the knee-jerk reaction is to liken the artist in question to either PJ Harvey or Kate Bush. Foe (aka Hannah Clark) has been likened to both – but in reality, has little to nothing in common with either. It’s hugely unlikely you’d find Harvey or Bush delivering anything quite as rocky as the music offered by Foe, and you certainly wouldn’t find either of them donning a luridly coloured wig willy-nilly.

It would be so easy to dismiss Foe as a novelty, but once you get past her penchant for wearing day-glo headgear and oh-so-deliberate kookiness, her debut EP ‘Hot New Trash’ has a definite charm. If you’ve not given up after the first track, chances are you’ll enjoy Foe’s trash-filled musical aesthetic.

That opening number, the rather short ‘Ape Song’, is based around a waltz time signature played on a harmonium, creating the kind of carnival atmosphere which might please Kurt Weill and Tom Waits. Foe’s vocals are strong, but not especially user-friendly with their slightly sneering nature. The track falls apart fairly quickly, descending into ugly electronic drones and backward loops. ‘Tyrant Song’ combines a hard edged electronic punch with a fuzzy guitar riff, over which Foe’s slightly distorted voice works excellently. Where there should be a chorus, she spits “are you ready for the next big thing / are you ready for a clown in a g-string”. It just about passes as a hook; but the mood of the track seems more important than its sing-along qualities. If you like chunky riffs overlaid by electronica, this is a number should hit the mark. Even the jarring keyboard lines don’t interfere with the solid grooves.

‘Genie In a Coke Can’ is much slower and a fair bit darker, with its brooding riff clashing with electronica in a way which recalls the best work by cult 90s artists Snake River Conspiracy and Jane Jensen. The lyrics are full of anti-media messages and spite directed at record companies who spend “millions in marketing for pop star trash”. Once again, the ugly keyboards play against the mid-paced rock elements in a way that sets out to unnerve, but there’s enough bottom end and fuzz here give the track a proper edge. ‘Merry Go Down’ features a heavy use of keyboards, overlaid with upfront bass. Foe’s vocals avoid being twee by being slightly distorted via some studio trickery, but while her voice is loud in the end mix, it’s the instrumental arrangement which provides the greatest strength. The harmonium, combined with very measured drumming and retro guitar twang lends a slightly unsettling atmosphere; the kind of twisted spookiness you should expect from someone who claims that Oompa Loompas often invaded her bedroom at night via hallucinations.

‘Hot New Trash’ presents the sound of a raw talent refusing to be moulded and pigeon-holed by her record company. While it starts out on shaky ground by trying slightly too hard, by the mid-point, Foe’s mix of alternative pop, ugly electronica and chunky rock becomes more than endearing. Forget what you may have been told: she isn’t PJ Harvey, Kate Bush or any other female singer-songwriter you care to lazily pin on her; she’s just Foe – making her own music, and even better, she’s doing it on her own terms.

April 2011