The choice of a title for a record can materially influence how you expect it to sound. In the case of the new LP from Piney Gir, the working title was It’s Been A Shit Year For Everyone. Had she stuck with that, the ten pop songs here would have sounded brooding and sullen, sloping their way through the album with a world-weary miserablism and mopey outlook. Fortunately, Piney pivoted and opted for the much more ambiguous You Are Here, its cover finding her draped in white, against a white background, holding a white guitar: it seems to say, ‘Yep, you’re here, it ain’t great but you can at least make something good out of it – if you want to.’
The album was trailed by the fine single ‘Great Pretender’, carrying a dreamy, vaguely surreal popness thanks to its inspiration coming from a weird party at Rick Rubin’s Hollywood pad. A similarly wonky obliqueness can be heard across You Are Here, it’s songs being easy on the ear but hard on the mind if you listen closely enough. Here we find Piney playing with styles ranging from the gentle balladry of ‘Variety Show’ (a duet with Sweet Baboo) to the spiky tenderness of ‘Puppy Love’, via the Fifties slow motion rock ‘n’ roll embrace of the standout ‘Peanut Butter Malt Shop Heartthrob’ – replete with finger clicks and saxophone beamed in from Vince Fontaine’s National Bandstand in Grease – and concluding with the impassioned, gauzy exotica of final track ‘Evensong’.
Piney’s voice has always had the capacity to have a cutesy sweetness, a bubblegum charm, which is why it’s hard to find her chewing over themes of missing out and being unlucky in love on the buzzing ‘Careaway’ or the careworn, embittered ‘Admiral Fleets’ that opens the record. The alien, unresolved tonalities of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy and the languid, louche detachment of vintage Roxy Music provide the textural fabric of these pieces, lacing many of the songs here with an uncertainty that makes them less pop than they first seem.
The album’s most towering moment arrives in the ‘We’ll Always Have Paris’. Here we find Piney taking a wistful, regretful look back through a tragic love story, its diaristic lyrics offering an insight into a relationship that suggests its individuals were doomed from the very start, the memory of Paris the only bright spot in an ill-suited pairing full of opposite viewpoints and never quite arriving at the same point on a map.
We have become accustomed to Piney Gir’s restless stylistic eclecticism, and You Are Here clings to that ‘anything goes’ ethos faithfully. Amid the album’s rich, broadminded musical accompaniment it is Piney’s plaintive, delicate, fragile voice that steals the show, drawing you in time after time and once again highlighting her idiosyncratic, honed form of evocative and often heart-wrenching storytelling.
You Are Here by Piney Gir is released November 1 2019 by STRS Records
Words: Mat Smith
(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence