As well as being militarily neutral, Switzerland’s absolute lack of pop history means it feels musically neutral too – and thus perhaps the only place this Mancunian dream-pop duo could alight on the visionary, totally idiosyncratic sound they recorded there for their third LP. There’s the rickety, pre-internet cosmopolitanism of the exotica movement, post-punk bands such as A Certain Ratio, and the “fourth world” music of Jon Hassell, but all deployed with serious pop smarts. The Second Shift gently skanks as if trying to dance with a tray of piña coladas, and Glorious Idea is a propulsive disco number, though the most intensely beautiful song is the steady, sad trudge of For Every Window There’s a Curtain. As well as the solid rhythms, the anchor amid the sonic burble is singer Alice Merida Richards. Her voice has touches of Broadcast’s Trish Keenan, Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, and Julia Holter: what at first sounds girlish, naive and open-hearted is revealed to be rather jaded and wary. Her poetic lyrics conjure (mostly female) figures yearning for release but trapped by mansplainers, compromised self-worth and architecture both real and psychic. But the album’s final words, ushering back in the strident breakbeats of Seasons Reversed, read: “And now that I’m sure I won’t hesitate / Or try to find an excuse / Not to open and walk through the door” – a euphoric payoff after you worry Richards’ teeth had been gritted to the root.
Ben Beaumont-Thomas is music editor of the Guardian