Common Holly – When I Say To You Black Lightning

The second record from Montreal-based songwriter Brigitte Naggar and company is an inventive, endearing, restless and powerfully tender voyage

Album Review by Fraser MacIntyre | 16 Oct 2019
  • Common Holly – When I Say To You Black Lightning
Album title: When I Say To You Black Lightning
Artist: Common Holly
Label: Dalliance
Release date: 11 Oct

A hushed and hypnotic performance at The Hug & Pint last May (championed by GoldFlakePaint) found Brigitte Naggar, aka Common Holly, sharing songs from her debut record Playing House and a dreamy, stripped-back rendition of a-ha’s Take on Me – only semi-ironically delivered – with a small, smitten Glasgow gathering.

The playful, creepy and knowingly intense electric guitar that ushers in recent single Central Booking brilliantly encapsulates one of the reasons why Naggar’s songs were so instantly and uniquely captivating to those in attendance. They aren’t easy to define. The Montreal-based songwriter voyages into the often inarticulable space in between tangible emotional responses, when we are still processing things.

This is particularly rewarding on It’s Not Real. The subtle changes in the way ‘It’s not real if I forget it’ (repeated frequently throughout the song) is delivered investigates the many different ways the line can be interpreted. At first it seems to be a healing mantra, perhaps uttered by a hurt individual averting their eyes and trying to wish away an all-too-fresh trauma. The sinister twist in the way it's sung and accompanied towards the end of the song can perhaps be taken as a warning against spending too much time in hiding: painful memories can return without warning if left unprocessed.

You Dance begins with a clean yet rugged electric guitar, as a police siren rests so low in the mix that it becomes an unsettlingly soothing background noise. ‘Don’t be afraid’, ‘Don’t panic’ and ‘Don’t freak out’ are repeated in an increasingly claustrophobic manner, as we venture into the headspace of someone wrestling for control. Naggar’s band are remarkably light-footed, accomplished and intuitive as they accompany her, never once overstepping, or opting for a predictable approach.

‘You’re like a hot supervillain at the top of your game’, Naggar sings on recent single Joshua SnakesThanos – perhaps the supervillain of recent supervillains, and also the subject of more romantic fantasies than one may expect (“I would totally take him home from a space bar” says Tara Abell) – would perhaps delight in Naggar’s sophomore offering.

When I Say To You Black Lightning is, despite its intimate, disarming emotional punch (‘I think we’ve been measured out for pain since birth’), "perfectly balanced" in the sense that Naggar doesn’t waste a note, or allow herself and her band to part with anything that would detract from the feel or poignancy of a song. Naggar offers empathy rather than sympathy ('I am sorry New York broke you... / I think perhaps it woke you'), making for an infinitely more potent and complex record. There are – commendably – no dramatic, uplifting crescendos which would allow the listener the kind of resolution someone admitting ‘Often I forget to get offline / And often I’ve forgotten to just be here’ wouldn’t personally receive in under a minute.

The record does, however, conclude with one cathartic, bombastic, skyscraper of a moment, as Naggar repeats ‘Don’t leave me / I’m crazy / OK’, accompanied by frantic guitars and raucuous, Big Thief-esque drums. Crazy OK is a delightfully modest and endearing song with which to end a warm, insightful and frequently jarring record full of pain, love, curiosity and mystery.

Listen to: Uuu, Crazy OK, Measured