Already recognised as somewhat of a frontrunner amongst their city’s underground music scene, Manchester-based electronic-pop duo Bernard + Edith are geared up to bring their experimental sound to a wider audience, with the release of their debut album Jem. While their innocuous name (the middle names of members Greta Carroll and Nick Delap) conjures images of old-timey neighbours with a taste for tradition, ‘Bernard + Edith’ is an anachronism amid a soundscape of musical and textural experimentation.
Opening the LP is the atmospheric Wurds, a moody track built on hypnotic layering of repeating and evolving motifs. Dagger continues in the same mesmerising manner, as glimmering synths and sparse instrumentals flicker around Carroll’s voice, ebbing and flowing in both texture and tempo. Reverberating in the haunting vocal harmonies and shimmering electronica of tracks like Crocodiles and Tidal Wave are some of the pair’s most notable influences the Cocteau Twins and Portishead.
Instrumental China marks the middle of the LP; its musical influences are so generically, and tactlessly ‘Eastern’ the track borders on tasteless. Fortunately Jem’s second half doesn’t follow China’s example. From here tracks like Heartache and Rosemary exhibit Carroll’s sinister vocals that, while don’t quite measure up to the singer’s jazz idols Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, are perfectly accompanied by Delap’s shadowy, humming production. Lead single Poppy is equal parts unsettling and danceable, with its marriage of infectious beats and dissonant chimes, before the album winds down with the softer, subdued tracks Girls Night Out and Young Woman.
Overall Jem is an incredibly interesting album, awash with strange invention and experimentation. Bernard + Edith explore curious soundscapes with an artfulness that is palpable, and embraced. A more nuanced navigation of musical and cultural influences in the duo’s future efforts could push Bernard + Edith to a more perceptive frontier.