On first encounter, ‘Bad Dream Hotline’ is your standard emo-goth release – black on black cover art, tracks called things like ‘A Handsome Stranger Called Death’ and ‘Dance & Weep’, and opening lyrics that beg the new listener, “don’t judge me by my waistline, judge me by my unseen dreams.” The eyeliner – or angst, for that matter – couldn’t be heavier.

Further investigation, however, reveals this debut to be a far more peculiar record than that – across its relatively brief existence, Foe (or 21-year-old art-school dropout Hannah Clark to her mum) takes in 80s hair metal, synth funk, Britney-infused arena pop and, as seems mandatory for every stylistically diffuse LP of the last twelve months, crunching dubstep.

Part of ‘Bad Dream Hotline’’s appeal lies precisely in this pick’n’mix approach, and indeed it’s a tribute to Clark’s personality that the album retains so much consistency despite the almost perpetual genre bends. However, the same manic shuffle mode tactic also makes this record a tiring experience, and that complaint isn’t aided by the constant flow of gimmicky studio tricks – vocals slow down and speed up at will, solos fly around the speakers like unswattable flies and the programmed beats lurch forward and backwards in the mix like an overenthusiastic headbanging teenager. Clark’s honking melismatic voice, too, the kind to which X-Factor judges give standing ovations, becomes slightly grating as the album progresses.

Despite all that, or maybe because of it, ‘Bad Dream Hotline’ is an undeniably compelling and knotty listen, and certainly an inventive one. Its worst crime, perhaps, is having far more ideas than it strictly needs.

By Sam Walton

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