Review for PVA – Blush – Album 2022
Country of Origin: UK, London
Label: Ninja Tune
Release Date: Oct. 14, 2022
Genre: Electronica, Alternative, Indie
11 Tracks • 43m 04s
At qobuz available in Hi-res
24 Bits / 96 kHz – Stereo
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On Friday, 10/14/2022 PVA released their debut album BLUSH. The south London band’s gut-busting album combines the pulsing pulse of electronic music with the raw energy of a life-affirming gig, revealing more about the trio than they’ve ever revealed before.
The eleven infectious tracks from the troupe, consisting of Ella Harris and Josh Baxter (who share vocals, synths, guitars and production) and drummer and percussionist Louis Satchell, are based on a malange of acid, disco, gaudy synths with which they liberate the dancefloor from inane vacuous off-the-shelf sound and set a new tone with queer-coded spoken word post-punk.
I first became aware of PVA in March 2021 when they played one of the „Live on KEXP at Home gigs“ at KEXP. PVA impressed me a lot back then and it was clear that PVA was a must keep on the docket.
Time jump: Oct. 10, 2022: PVA gave a sensational performance with the track „Hero Man“ on BBC’s „Later with Jools Holland“ and completely wowed the audience. I, too, was completely blown away, because Ella Harris had developed into an infinitely terrific performer since the KEXP gig, where she seemed a bit unimpressive, and you can’t take your eyes off her.
How much I was impressed by what I saw also shows that I could not refrain from immediately purchasing the album Blush at qobuz in 24 bit 96 kHz – and that also sounds outstandingly good.
Josh Baxter also impressed immensely, constantly dancing around the synths and his electronica gear like a dervish on drugs. And Louis Satchell hits his drums with sheer precision and force. In short, PVA are an exhilaratingly good band.
The well-rehearsed trio was formed when Harris and Baxter began making what they called „country friend techno“ together in 2017. One of their first songs came about when Ella dictated her dreams to her new bandmate. Their first show, titled Narcissistic Exhibitionism, took place just two weeks after they met, at The Five Bells Pub in New Cross.
The entire evening was curated by Ella and featured painting, sculpture and photography upstairs at the venue, while bands performed downstairs. PVA were booked as headliners for this.
After this early period, PVA then recruited drummer Louis Satchell to take their live shows to a new dimension. These energetic performances helped PVA gain a cult-like reputation among London concertgoers, especially since they were barely releasing their sound online at the time.
Seeing the live show was the only way to experience and enjoy the band.
They established themselves alongside Squid, Black Midi and Black Country, New Road as major players in South London’s passionate indie scene. This led to appearances at SXSW, Pitchfork Music Festival and Green Man, as well as national tours with Shame, Dry Cleaning and Goat Girl. But even in their early days, it was clear that they didn’t exist in just a traditional band.
It was not uncommon to see them twice in one night, once at Brixton sweatbox The Windmill and a second time in the wee hours of the morning DJing at Deptford’s underground Bunker Club.
The group released their debut single, „Divine Intervention,“ in late 2019 via Speedy Wunderground, and their debut EP, „Toner,“ came out a year later via Ninja Tune, home to similarly iconoclastic acts like Young Fathers and Kae Tempest. The EP featured a remix of „Talks“ by Mura Masa, which received a GRAMMY nomination in the Best Remixed Recording category at the 2022 awards.
On their debut album, PVA takes the same energy from their live performances while creating their own distinctive sound cosmos full of sonic textures and mighty heart. BLUSH is rich with heavyweight industrial beats, jagged punk spirit, and moments of quiet contemplation during Ella’s poetic storytelling. The album is relentless, relentlessly tearing at the listener’s soul, blending influences like Portishead, PC Music, Laurie Anderson and cult rave-pop duo The Pom-Poms with ease and great dexterity.
„We wanted to surprise people and do something different than just conveying what we sound like at a gig,“ explains drummer Louis. „It’s a pretty angsty record, sometimes dealing with mental health issues, but also the day-to-day anxieties of producing the album. It was a rocky road, but we kept picking ourselves up.“ And you can’t get much better than that.
This is the sound of a formation that constantly knocks the expectations placed on it off the board with a quick push, delivering an album that constantly opens up little wormholes into new worlds of sound – Amazing sounds, amazing music.
Resisting easy categorization, this may be a hallmark for PVA, but BLUSH makes other, off-kilter elements of the band’s sound world more apparent than ever. Over the past two years, Ella has been working on solo material as Lime Zoda and has written two books of poetry, many of which she used as the basis for the lyrics on BLUSH.
The album’s opener, „Untethered,“ is about „being in a heterosexual relationship that is constricting and closed off,“ Ella explains. „It’s basically an expression of frustrated anger at masculinity and dissatisfaction at not being able to break free from this heteronormative situation and explore the world. On the other hand, „Untethered“ is also is a moment of celebration of freedom that has emerged from this flaying, when the escape to freedom then finally succeeds once again.
The track has an irrepressible energy that makes it impossible to stop, while themes of transition, joy and reshaping negative situations run through BLUSH. Ella did „a lot of therapy“ during the permanent lockdown and overcame many important life situations. „I just feel happier with myself now, and that was really important for the songs, too,“ she says.
Josh agrees. „Through Ella, I can also express my gayness.“ He sings on both „Bunker“ and the sawtooth industrial banger „The Individual,“ songs that are about identity and the characters we see in ourselves.
„This album definitely explores who we are as people,“ Josh says. „We’ve all evolved personally, and the album is about allowing ourselves to be more ourselves and be comfortable with that.“
BLUSH was written during various lockdowns, a tough time for a band used to pushing the limits of their sound live on stage. PVA doesn’t let adversity get them down, though. If anything, they feel empowered by the enforced distance in their songwriting. Ella wrote poetry and learned to produce music, Josh worked with other artists as a producer, and Louis continued his music studies at City University, studying ancient African polyrhythms, among other things.
„We had grown apart with what we were doing and needed to get back together,“ Ella explains. „We could have just rushed the album out, but I’m really glad we took our time with it. It feels a lot more like us.“
The album was produced by the band along with friends Ben Romans-Hopcraft and Jamie Neville over a two-week period at Neville’s studio in South London. They then mixed the album at FOLD, a club tucked away on an industrial estate in Canning Town. Intimate in one place, industrial in another – that’s the world of PVA.
It was important for PVA to create a world where these songs could have their impact not as separate entities, but connected to each other. Over time, the songs have changed and mutated. The result is an album that may sound violent and gigantic to the outside world at first, but then touches the listener in a deeply personal way. Blush is built to bounce reflectively off the walls of any large venue, but is imbued with enough personality and individuality to make the epic easily accessible to the audiences.
The Bottom Line
„The album has taken on a life of its own,“ Ella says. „It has really become something that we didn’t really expect it to be.“ PVA wanted to surprise the people out there and ended up surprising themselves. The result, even if it wasn’t expected, is a true revelation and one of the best albums of 22, one of the greatest musical gifts we have been given this year.
The Bottom Line
See text! Maximum Score: 5 Stars
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Studio 2 (Near Field): Studio 3 (Consumer):
Studio 2 (Near Field):
Studio 3 (Consumer):