On her enchanting debut, Poppy Ackroyd makes the most of her favorite instruments, turning them into virtual drums, harps and bells, while retaining their popular timbres. That’s not a drum machine we hear; it’s a drumstick or hand on wood. On Escapement, Ackroyd escapes typical modes of composition and performance, coaxing new sounds from old sources. Hauschka’s prepared piano comes to mind, as does Nils Frahm. Already, she seems poised to join their ranks.
The beauty is in the bloom. Because Ackroyd is a multi-instrumentalist, she often highlights one of her instruments at the beginning of a song before shifting to another. When these shifts occur, the results can be transcendent. In “Rain” (which also includes field recordings of the likely suspects), the shift to strings arrives at 1:28, but the full bloom begins at exactly 2:00; in “Seven”, the notes that affect the heart also begin at 2:00 with the introduction of a third ivory melody. These are not long songs, but they are long enough for one to have settled in before these shifts occur. There’s no telling which instrument is her primary companion; just when one thinks, “oh, the artist is obviously better at violin”, she surprises listeners with new capabilities on the piano, and vice versa. The final turn is the loveliest, a moment in which all elements come into play. Ackroyd saves this for the 2:20 mark (so late!) of “Mechanism”, the album’s closing track. In this moment, all of the musical seeds seem to sprout at the same time.
It’s not surprising to learn that Ackroyd is classically trained, or that she has worked with theatre; these pieces betray their pedigree in a complimentary fashion. Yet it’s not enough to be classically trained; one also needs a certain degree of talent, and an imaginative instinct. These variables serve the artist well, but perhaps neither of these is as telling as her smile; as seen in the second video, she clearly enjoys what she’s doing, and this joy is contagious. We hope to hear more from Ackroyd in the new year, and from the accomplished sound of this debut, there’s every indication that we will. (Richard Allen)
Release date: December 14