Having to watch the likes of Cathy Davey and Imelda May effortlessly sail to the top of her homeland's charts, Tipperary singer/songwriter Gemma Hayes could have been forgiven for hitting the panic button in an effort to reclaim some of the kudos she'd achieved with her Mercury Music Prize-nominated debut, Night on My Side. However, the diminutive chanteuse appears to be completely unconcerned by the her displacement, as her fourth studio album, and her second through her own label, Let It Break, is perhaps her least commercial offering to date. Produced by regular collaborator David Odlum (the Frames), there are flashes of the My Bloody Valentine influences that defined her first album, such as the epic "There's Only Love," whose space rock guitar hooks and ethereal melodies are allowed to roam free for three minutes before the driving, '80s-tinged power pop beat kicks in, and the radio-friendly melodic pop of sophomore The Roads Don't Love You, as on the infectious, breathy backing vocals and New Order-esque basslines of "Keep Running" (whose original title, "Tokyo," was changed at the last minute due to the 2011 earthquake). But Let It Break's 12 tracks have much more in common with her low-key and slow-burning, acoustic-driven third effort, The Hollow of Morning, as evident on the sparse finger-picking of the hymnal-like "Sorrow Be Gone," the gently strummed, eerie gothic folk of "Brittle Winter," and the languid shuffling waltz of "To Be Beside You," not to mention the hushed, haunting instrumentals "That Sky Again" and "Don't Let Them Cut Your Hair." But as well as recalling her vastly different but equally impressive previous albums, Let It Break also opens a new chapter for Hayes, as she dabbles with electronica for the first time on "Fire," which blends the muted beats and downbeat synths of early Björk with a lilting, piano-led chorus and suitably solemn guest vocals from Bell X1's Paul Noonan, and the captivating Kraftwerk-meets-Kate Bush vibes of the gorgeous "Ruin." With very few obvious singles, Let It Break indicates that Hayes has abandoned any ambitions to replicate her early success, but while its melancholic and understated nature may not make much of an impression on first listen, it soon reveals itself to be a record of beauty which only confirms her undeniable class.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien