If ever a band was ideal for the extended play format, it is Polly and the Billets Doux. Debut album Fiction, Half-Truths and Downright Lies was an exercise in flux to a fault, a group unready or unwilling to settle on a style. Defiance of genre and the casting off of labels and straitjackets is all well and good – but variety can also become distracting and indistinct. By the end of the first LP, it was a struggle to feel any close connection with the band.
While the Hold Fast EP is subject to much the same breadth of intention, the shorter form lends itself more comfortably to the bands chameleonic tendencies. The title track wastes no time in blurting one of the simplest, catchiest riffs of the year so far, a waggish, twanging lick perfectly suited to the nonchalant chic of Polly Perry’s pacy delivery. ‘Factory Whistle’ sets off apace as well, a bustling shuffle that strains at the leash at times. Its caustic flashes (“all you do is hold me down”) and babbling guitar take longer to make their impact than the excellent, cocksure opener – but repay repeat listens.
The EP’s second half is a little more ambitious sonically – great acoustics on ‘Fortune of War’ in particular make the most of Perry’s absorbing, resonant, slightly husky voice. ‘Hymn Song’’s contrast between the long, languid, wobbly “oooh”s and sharp sudden inclines in her vocals is interesting too, though there is a sense of floaty descent that drains a little spirit. An early lyric about falling from the stars (an image tragically monopolised by Mick Hucknall, I fear) typifies the prettiness and the waning.
Straightforward, sometimes fun, with a tempering air of piquant sophistication, Polly and the Billets Doux are still hard to pin down. Less obviously in thrall to folk and jazz, the Hold Fast EP blends their influences more subtly – and more coherently for this. These four tracks form a fetching miniature. Here’s hoping the bigger picture will be clearer on the next album.