Minnie Birch claims to "make sad and dreary music that will leave you feeling happy" - that's quite a claim to make, but on one listen of her debut album Floundering, we're entranced by her curious unsettling stories - beautifully simple in their execution but containing all manner of weird and wonderful tales.
The majority of Floundering is just Minnie and her acoustic guitar or piano which creates a very sparse atmosphere on the record, which lends itself perfectly to Minnie's story-telling - on opener Bones she implores her potential beau to "line up all your skeletons at the end of the bed, I'm not running scared." Then on Dagger she mourns the end of a relationship as she plots the demise of a partner "kneel before me and I will raise my dagger so I can cut out your throat and then I will watch you bleed out" then reversing the roles and performing the same act on herself. Yet behind the dark, devilish lyrics is a musical delivery that is in stark contrast to the bloodthirsty lyrics.
The impact of the songs is enhanced by Minnie's delivery as she takes a journey through the darkest deepest recesses of her mind - such as the claustrophobic relationship self-doubt of The Invitation - "fifty years to plan your eightieth birthday, I just hope I get it right" - and Unravelling, where she's accompanied by backing vocals that modestly emphasise the emotion of the song.
Lightning has hints of blues and country and is dominated by an interesting vocal interplay between Minnie and a male vocalist in the first chorus and then underneath the rest of the song. Glitter sees Minnie showing off more range in her voice, something that she does subtly throughout, never allowing it to overpower the songs, but leaving us in no doubt that as well as being a talented raconteur, she's also has control of the pitch and power of her voice and knows how to use it to accentuate the impact of the stories she's telling.
Nashville also hints at a very simple blues style and, at over five minutes, is very much a journey song exploring the detail of the tale of a doomed relationship that Minnie is weaving but coming back to the line "we can't move forward if we're looking back, everyone knows we can't travel like that" before surprising us with a positive twist at the end "I can agree right now that we will meet back here when we're old and grey"
She does then demonstrate a meaner streak on the title track where she taunts a doomed partner that she'll be seen as the wounded party even she led him on and "I had the catch of the day on the end of the string, I took him home and I stuck the knife into him." Delicate is another song that picks over the bones of a relationship but this time with Minnie in the role of the loser, hoping for a reconciliation but knowing that it's an unlikely outcome.
Ferryman is another obtuse story around relationships with strings added at just the right moment to add dramatic tension to the impact of the words. Dustbowl is an honest open piece of self-assessment that talks about the way couples move their way around the real issues in their relationship rather than addressing them. The final track Light Switch starts like a monologue nursery rhyme and has a repetitive chiming acoustic guitar running through it that brings us to the final words where she casts off all the doubts in the rest of the album and looks for "someone who will stay with me".
Floundering is in its own understated, slightly disturbing way a masterpiece. Full of tales of doom, gloom, despair and betrayal as the sinner and sinned against, it's a journey through the mind of its creator and a history of relationship woes but it also has shades of light cast through it. The simple approach that's been taken to the recording of it and Minnie's evocative voice and ability to twist a tale with a slight chance of vocal emphasis simply cast those stories into even starker light and keep the listener on the edge of their seat with a nervous look behind them.
Minnie Birch's official site can be found here. She is also on Facebook and Twitter.
Floundering is available from her Bandcamp site.
Follow Even The Stars on Twitter at @eventhestarsuk and like our Facebook page for all the latest updates