Home Read Albums Of The Week: Isobel Campbell | Bow to Love

Albums Of The Week: Isobel Campbell | Bow to Love

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:Isobel Campbell is no stranger to navigating turmoil. On her previous album There Is No Other (2020), she re-emerged after a decade of label trouble with a gem of subtly questing psychedelic folk. Four years on, Campbell spreads her net wider on Bow To Love, a soft-spun yet sharp-edged set of reflections on modern crises that doesn’t stop at diagnosing the problems: it goes further to ask how we might progress from our tense, conflicted times.

With all the dexterity the Glasgow-born singer-songwriter and cellist is known for, the result is an album of lambent surfaces and choppy riptides, a deeply personal record for today poised between hope and despair. “The album is about what we’re all in right now, and my response to that and my life as a microcosm within that,” says Campbell, before suggesting how exposing modern horrors might prove purgative. “I think there’s a quote from A Course In Miracles which says, ‘Love brings up everything unlike itself for the purpose of healing and release.’ Maybe these horrible things are coming up and out so we can get rid of them and things can be better.”

Her radar keenly attuned to inequities, Campbell spotlights toxic masculinity on the luminous Everything Falls Apart, it’s circling lilt and warm, fretless bass framing a call to unmask patriarchal power in readiness for a brand new start. “My elegy to the patriarchy” is how Campbell pitches it, noting how “even the words we use to insult a substandard man will often blame the woman — ‘son of a bitch’, ‘bastard’.” The spellbinding psych-folk of Spider To The Fly and Second Guessing add themes of “narcissistic abuse” and “repetition compulsion”, lending bite to the album’s take on relationships.

Some songs were first conceptualised in 2016, when political events exacerbated what Campbell describes as “real tension” amongst people. Between its gently jazzy shuffle and cushioning arrangement, the Yoda-esque Do Or Die foregrounds fortitude in the face of gnawing anxieties. The rainy-day soul-pop of Keep Calm Carry On also started in 2016, when Campbell was staying at her aunt’s flat in Yoker and her then-husband and collaborator Chris Szczech texted her from New York about the Brexit vote. “Chris was saying, ‘It looks like it’s going to happen’ but I was like, ‘No way.’ And actually — ‘way’. It did happen.”

Technology is touched on with first single 4316, an almost robo-folk-pop challenge to the idea of the “transhuman:” The idea that technology might sire a new stage in human evolution. Favouring “honest, decent communication” over AI, Campbell takes a dim view of our “friend, unfriend, block, unblock” culture. “I know what I love and it ain’t that,” she says. “I was talking to an Uber driver the other day and I said, ‘I don’t want to be living in a video game.’ And he said, ‘Well, we are.’ I feel like I’m offering a human element in these transhuman days of artificial intelligence.”

The looping sing-song swing of the title track applies that open, complex thinking to myths about love: “It’s not enough to bow to love” is the full lyric, offering a grown-up take on the matter. “I grew up loving The Beatles and All You Need Is Love,” Isobel says, “but sometimes love’s not enough. Sometimes love can get a bit wonky. Love brings up everything — good, bad, ugly — and it can push your buttons.”

To close the album, a warm cover of Dire StraitsWhy Worry disregards any hipster disdain for Mark Knopfler’s band to find a core of consolation at the song’s heart. “I never really bought into all that hipster stuff,” says Campbell. “If something speaks to me, it speaks to me. My dad had all those records and I would always sing it to myself.”

In making the album, Campbell chose an environment that spoke to her. She recorded and co-produced the record with Szczech in his L.A. studio, sticking with what works through the upheaval in their personal lives. “Chris Szczech and I made this record no longer as a couple. There’s been shit tons going on but then as I tell myself, things come up to be addressed and dealt with.”

The result is an inquisitive, complex and fully matured album from an artist who has travelled long and far. Campbell was first noticed as a teenage founder member of Belle & Sebastian, before she released two dream-folk solo albums under the name The Gentle Waves and left B&S in 2002. Two records under her own name followed, leading to a union with late rock-carved growler Mark Lanegan for three albums of gravel’n’honey Americana duets, where Lanegan would stand aside while Campbell called the creative shots.

A move to L.A. and a near-decade of label troubles followed; the latter ended with There Is No Other in 2020 before — as Campbell puts it — “the world went down the crapper” for the pandemic. And on Bow To Love, suggests Campbell, the world’s ongoing troubles are clear. “Anyone with two eyes, a brain and a heart can see that people are struggling, and I suppose I have a lot of thoughts about that. And it’s this album.”

An album that also, says Campbell, has thoughts about how the future remains unwritten. “I feel like we’re living in some kind of dystopia, but I think it’s up to us what we buy into and what we react to. We do have a choice, even if sometimes we think we don’t. You can still see acts of great kindness. In all the bleakness, that’s what I hang on to. We are co-creators. Where we go next is up to us.” Mounted with clear-sighted artistry and care, Bow To Love is a light in the dark of uncertain times.”