Non-Nordic Sunday: Joana Serrat (Spain/Catalonia) – ‘Pictures’ (Single from forthcoming album)
Four years ago I had the pleasure of going to a Joana Serrat show in Levenshulme, an upcoming but still down at heel and slightly edgy suburb of south Manchester. The gig was at ‘Fred’s Ale House’, which is a converted bookies (Bet Fred) hence the name, and tastefully converted I might add, particularly the venue room.
Joana is a native of Vic, a Catalan town close to Barcelona. She was engaged in a whirlwind tour of the UK by train with just her guitar and an overnight bag, having played the previous night in Bexhillon the south coast (at a working men’s club, which she sold out) and having a journey to Newcastle to look forward to the next day. She must have been exhausted but breezed through an 18-song set including three encores which were demanded by her discerning audience.
I recall noting the similarity of her Americana-pop style to that of Courtney Marie Andrews (some compare her to Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval and others to Joanna Newsom but both are a stretch in my view), that there is a Fado-like sadness in many of her songs, and that she sings them in a way that suggests she has actually lived through the experiences she portrays. And most endearingly her total lack of onstage pretentiousness.
At that time she was releasing her fourth label album ‘Dripping Springs’ which followed the third, ‘Crossing the Verge’ only a year earlier. Both brought her international acclaim and a global following but it has taken her until now to record the fifth, ‘Hardcore from the Heart’, which is out on June 11th, 2021 on Loose Music, and from which ‘Pictures’ is the first single. On social media she commented “after two years of uncertainties, my new single comes out at last!”
I don’t know fully what those uncertainties were; they can’t be explained wholly by the pandemic. When I interviewed her back in 2017 she did reveal that she had given up on music once after a ‘bad experience.’ And about this lead single she says,
“’Pictures’ talks about disillusion and the failure of communication. It's also a reminder of the amount of time we stupidly waste on trivial details. That idea of 'perfection never comes' (a theme of the album) is that you are better off just living your life because things can always go wrong. Tables turn in the blink of an eye. So putting off things while waiting for the right time to do them kills me.”
She adds, “The song takes place in Montréal and it's about a broken promise. It was inspired by the fact I didn't let myself be angry with that disappointment. I built a wall and let my frustration and sadness grow in this space but never expressed it. That took a toll on me and by the time I realized it, it was too late.” As I said, she lives what she sings about.
Because I lost touch with her over the last few years I thought I’d compare my favourite song from that 2017 show (Cloudy Heart’ from ‘Cross the Verge’) and ‘Pictures’. Remarkably both the common time productions have virtually identical openings but the difference emerges as they progress; the latter having more of a pop or even heavy rock feel to it (especially the jangly guitar) at the expense of the Americana of the first.
While that might disappoint those of her fans who are Americana purists it doesn’t detract from the quality of ‘Pictures’ one iota. As usual she assembled a stellar phalanx of top U.S. musicians in Texasto record the album, many of them having featured on ‘Dripping Springs’ (and with her brother Toni playing drums on some of the tracks – they appear as a duo at times) while production was left in the capable hands of Heba Kadry who has worked with Beach House amongst others and you can tell.
And the instrumental outro alone will have you gagging for the return of live shows.
If ‘Pictures' is representative of the album it will elevate the Catalan chanteuse to the global position she deserves to occupy.
‘Pictures' was officially released on 10th March.
Find her on Facebook.