Nerve Up arrived almost three years after LoneLady -- aka Julie Campbell -- started earning acclaim for her evocative take on post-punk in 2007. During that time, countless trends and bands came and went, and LoneLady’s debut appeared when female-driven acts like Little Boots and La Roux were big in the U.K. Campbell’s timing was fortunate, but it was just a bonus for a set of songs that sounded urgent enough to be written yesterday and refined enough to hint at how much care went into them. A certain kind of tension runs through all of LoneLady's music, a tug of war between relentless angularity and unabashed prettiness. Campbell’s work recalls prior firebrands like PJ Harvey and Kristin Hersh, and Nerve Up is as taut and moody as anything that came out on Factory or 4AD in their heydays, but LoneLady isn’t just a revivalist. Though the bones of her sound are familiar, post-punk’s spareness makes it ripe for rebirth after rebirth; Campbell explores the side of it that is more questioning than gloomy, and it’s in LoneLady’s very name to see everything as a challenge and claim the fringes for her own. With the help of producer Guy Fixsen (formerly of the experimental band Laika), she straddles the line between swift guitar workouts and stark electro-pop with flair and authority. “If Not Now” and “Army” crackle with impatience, and Campbell’s spindly but insistent guitars and brisk vocals signal anyone in her way to clear out. Though songs like these feel like they’re in danger of snapping in two, elsewhere on Nerve Up LoneLady throws some curves into her music’s uncompromising angles. On “Inmaterial,” she turns the song’s one-word chorus into five, and when the song settles into an uneasy groove akin to Throwing Muses at their most hypnotic, it’s like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. However, the album’s most exciting moments occur when Campbell gives in to her pop instincts completely. “Nerve Up,” a slinky self-pep talk driven by 808 beats, has as much feline sexiness as it does smarts. The gorgeous “Marble” shimmers with yearning, proving that LoneLady’s solitude is only sad when she wants it to be (a feeling she repeats on “Have No Past,” which sounds like a wish as much as a regret, and on the wide-open melancholy of the final track, “Fear No More”). Nerve Up is so consistent that it could be monotonous, but LoneLady’s passion and nuances make the album truly singular.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares