7/10 After last summer’s reissue of her urgent and surprisingly focused debut Disarm, multi-instrumentalist Laura Kidd returns with a Pledge Music-funded second album that, like its predecessor, reflects the bellicose nature of everyday struggles – battles of a personal and internal, as well as national or international, nature.
Despite the many war-related references strewn across Little Battles – song titles like ‘Minefields’, ‘Exit Strategy’, ‘Shields & Daggers’ and ‘Disarm’ almost risk overstating the theme – the tone of much of the music that it contains is, in fact, gentler and more contemplative than you might expect behind such headlines. The delicate instrumental opening ‘Intro’ is laced with found-sound recordings that Kidd has gathered on her travels as a touring musician – the calming toll of church bells, what could be the bleeps of a submarine in a WW2 drama, snippets of chatter, a train whistle – over a pretty acoustic guitar tune, while the sublime ‘Butterflies’ provides another subtle confection, full of floaty strings and a sweet, echo-effect vocal.
Elsewhere, though, Kidd wastes no time in showing that she hasn’t lost the fire that characterised her debut. The album’s first full track ‘Minefields’ butts in with a harder and tougher sound, its fuzz of electric guitar supporting the assertiveness of her vocal as it bemoans the distance from a loved one. Album highlight ‘Exit Strategy’ is another strong, power-pop-style number with a snaking synth line that adds an extra dimension to the guitars and percussion; the changeability of the instrumentation and rhythm reflecting the “Little battles in my mind” of the lyrics.
‘Magpie Heart’, ‘Delete’ and ‘Segue’ all use layered, harmonised vocals to give the songs their backbone rhythm. ‘Delete’, in particular, is a smartly constructed track that only introduces other instruments towards its end. Vitally, this clever approach doesn’t detract from the song’s appeal, as Kidd, in her endearingly inflected vocal, wishes she could self-edit her life: “I’d like to delete myself / don’t like to repeat myself.” The instrumentation of the album, too, produces some lovely moments, with ukulele, autoharp, melodica and, most notably, harp all featuring, as well as more conventional strings.
Despite its fifteen tracks, Little Battles is a pleasingly well-paced longplayer. Some of its best moments occur towards its end (a welcome change from the front-loading more common with longer albums), with the likeable ‘Done & Said’ and concluding track ‘Disarm’ offering rich, lush harmonies and a note that closes the album with a flourish just this side of OTT. From the moving testament to Mexico’s “lost daughters” of ‘May Our Daughters Return Home’ (enhanced by the sombre chorus of supporting vocals from Tasmin Archer, Hysterical Injury’s Annie Gardiner, Gaggle’s Dana Jade and Anna Madeleine) to the moody allure of the more personal reflections found in ‘Magpie Heart’ and ‘Exit Strategy’, it is undeniably pleasing to find She Makes War still fighting the good fight.