AMBER ARCADES / ELLA, 19TH OCTOBER 2016, OXFORD CELLAR
Being forced to endure a top-deck shuttle bus journey from Bristol Airport to Bath would be more likely to inspire most people to misanthropic and perhaps even homicidal rage than to write a song, but not Ella van der Woude. The penultimate track on her new EP was conjured up in just such circumstances, and is remarkably measured to boot.
Elsewhere in a set of material that would probably endear itself to fans of Waxahatchee and Courtney Barnett is a cover of "a French goth song from the 80s", mere mention of which no doubt has the ears of Nightshift's esteemed editor immediately pricking up. Apparently, Ella learned it at the request of a friend for her wedding - which, on this evidence, must have been an, erm, eventful bash.
Certainly more eventful than the headliners' day. Not that Annelotte de Graaf aka Amber Arcades is disappointed by that. On the contrary - given that recent tour tribulations have included the classic van breakdown, it's positively welcome.
This isn't de Graaf's first time in Oxford - she's previously visited as a law student (as a former legal aide on UN war crimes tribunals, she's presumably used to hearing even more routinely horrifying and upsetting things than you would on a Bastille record) and indeed could have ended up doing a semester in the midst of the dreaming spires. She opted to go to the US instead, though, which is where she started playing music. "I don't regret it." Neither, she can be assured, do we.
Backed by her support band plus a bassist and a drummer who looks like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall if he'd stuck his fingers in a socket while on holiday in Hawaii and who appears to be drying tea towels on his drum skins, de Graaf crafts instantly charming jangly indie pop smeared with pretty 60s psych. It's unafraid of melody and clean lines; it's Deerhunter, Camera Obscura, Angel Olsen, perhaps (with the deliciously chiming guitars of 'Come With Me') even Sonic Youth at their most placid.
Any fears Amber Arcades may have shot their bolt by playing 'Right Now' - arguably the best track on debut LP Fading Lines - just two songs into the set are swiftly dispelled by the haze of sensitive, daydreamy loveliness that follows, in which 'Constant's Dream' is particularly spellbinding.
An interpretation of Nick Drake's 'Which Will' that de Graaf confesses is "very free" wins even more friends, but most appreciation is reserved for another of the singles from Fading Lines, 'Turning Light', which sees them morph into Stereolab and banish the summery wistfulness with a bracing autumnal squall that shakes us into the realisation that we've just witnessed something very special indeed.
*De Graaf is actually from Utrecht, but please don't let that get in the way of a good (groansome) pun.
(This review first appeared in the December issue of Nightshift.)