Perhaps wisely jumping ship before the whole nu-folk scene becomes even more ubiquitous, Brighton trio Peggy Sue go electric for their second album, Acrobats -- a rather radical change in direction which sees them join the likes of Warpaint on the quest to revive early-'90s riot grrrl grunge. There are still traces of the acoustic indie-folk sound they pursued on 2010's Fossils & Other Phantoms, such as the lolloping percussion, mournful strings, and suitably somber melodies of the slightly gothic "Funeral Beat," and the a cappella harmonies, languid beats, and gentle glockenspiels of "Parking Meter Blues." But for the most part, PJ Harvey producer John Parrish helps to create a rather unsettling and suspense-ridden, lo-fi atmosphere which recalls the likes of Throwing Muses and Sleater-Kinney more than the Marlings and Mumfords they were previously compared to. It's an unexpected shift in sound which they initially pull off with ease on the opener "Cut My Teeth," an ominous fusion of fuzzy guitars and brooding basslines, and "Song & Dance," a tale of a relationship gone wrong set against a backdrop of twisted riffs, angular indie rhythms, and the enchanting banshee-esque, hushed dual vocals of Rosa Slade and Katy Young. But it's one which also requires some perseverance, particularly on the lo-fi meandering garage rock of "Changed and Waiting," the sludgy, slow-paced blues of "Boxes," and the Florence and the Machine knock-off "All We'll Keep," all of which make the middle section feel like quite a slog. Luckily, it's a slog which has a light at the end of the tunnel, as the sinister cello-led "Shadows" and the graphic, trash-rock murder ballad "There Always Was" ensures that the album finishes with a sinister bang rather than a gloomy whimper, but it's never a particularly easy listen. Indeed, Acrobats will simply be too dour for some, but while Peggy Sue's drastic musical overhaul doesn't always convince, it's an admirably brave effort which possesses enough quality to make it worth the occasional test of endurance.
by Jon O'Brien