First EPs often reflect a sound that is not yet fully formed, from artists still finding their feet. This is not the case when it comes to Planetary Shift, the debut EP from Graywave—the alias of 24-year-old singer-songwriter Jess Webberley from Wolverhampton.
Two things are immediately noticeable about Graywave’s music. Firstly, it’s indebted to classic dream-pop and shoegaze. Secondly, it’s a lot heavier and harder-edged than you might expect from that genre tag.
Planetary Shift starts out strong with opener ‘Dreaming’, which lulls you into a false sense of tranquillity with a plaintive two-chord groove before delivering a sharp right hook of a chorus. Single ‘Swallow’ uses a similar foundation to perhaps even greater effect, its roaring power and melodic vocal hooks evoking acts like Wolf Alice, yet with even denser, more maximalist textures.
The EP’s title track lingers on the sombre drift of its intro for longer than the previous two tracks, showing that Webberley isn’t afraid to let her accomplished songwriting stand on its own for a while before being buried under layers of fuzz and feedback. When the sharp beats do come in—this time electronic and processed—they’re sparser than before, leaving her ghostly, siren-like vocals at the forefront. This track isn’t short on psychedelic effects, though; a sweeping metallic tone (guitar? Synth? Unidentified Flying Object? It’s not immediately clear) provides an alien atmosphere that matches the title.
‘Like Heaven’, released as a single back in December, is especially reminiscent of early Slowdive—all gorgeous vocals, doom-laden, half-time drumming, and layers of soaring, weeping guitars. There are many moments on this EP, and particularly this track, that make the listener feel like they are drowning in waves of noise in the best possible way.
While Planetary Shift appears on the surface to be a fairly conventional shoegaze record (if a fantastic example of the genre) that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, there are unique elements that make it stand out from the reverb-soaked crowd. One of the most apparent is the sheer punishing energy of the drumming (recorded by Zak Jenkins), the intro to bone-shaking closer ‘Before’ being the best example. Webberley’s past experience playing in metal bands also shows on this record, with many of her angst-ridden howls more reminiscent of Amy Lee than Elizabeth Fraser.
Planetary Shift is an accomplished and exciting debut that brims with the confidence expected of a much more established artist. If Graywave keeps this up, we can expect big things in the future.
Words by Dan Knight
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