Singer/guitarist Phillipa “Pip” Brown tags Anxiety as a synth-free sophomore album, but you’d never guess it from the lush ordnance of guitar tones that frizz, blip, sparkle and crunch in manicured clamor across these 10 radio-ready pop-rock nuggets. Uplifted from the synthetic disco sludge that dampened Ladyhawke’s 2009 debut, Anxiety is pop that actually pops—a tight string of hooky riffs, pulse-setting percussion and crowd-commanding vocals balanced on basslines sturdy enough for Pip to hang her flannels from. Let this Kiwi songbird namedrop Nevermind all she wants. You’ll know from the first play-through that Ladyhawke’s second egg of solid pop is really Absolute Garbage.
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Some of the credit for Anxiety‘s undeniable catchiness goes to producer Pascal Gabriel (Goldfrapp, Kylie Minogue), who recorded the album with Pip over a year in his Southern France chateau, but the real star behind these bopping carols of pills and paramours is the IRL neuroses that followed Pip like groupies on her first big solo tour.
“[Writing my sophomore album] became tough because I was building it up in my head,” Pip said in an interview about the anxiety behind Anxiety. “If I’d been happy I don’t think I would’ve written the same record.”
That’s probably true, but don’t worry that Anxiety is without joy; there’s no shortage of dancehall-filling na-na-nas and ay-ay-ays to drive Pip’s paranoia anthems with the best of Madonna/Bowie frontmania and Shirley Manson glee in the face of heartbreak. Lyrically, Pip’s pop is a catalog of psychic ills. For 38 gripping minutes she colors relationships as competing causes of and escapes from anxiety, alternately asking a nameless lover to “Take me on a ride/Show me how to hide the voice in my head” on the space disco title track and assuring him, “I’m plotting my revenge as you silently creep” on ebullient opener, “Girl Like Me.” Near the end of a thrillingly bipolar journey, Pip reconciles her flight from pain with its perpetuation on the collection’s lone lighter-raising ballad, “Cellophane.”
“We’re on the night train to anywhere but here,” she sings sweetly above thrumming bass and power chords. “All those years we spent running away we never knew/That it was meant to be.” Pip knows firsthand you can’t outrun the nagging voices in your head. But with this second solid Ladyhawke winner, she proves you can make them sing.