Review: Billy Nomates – CACTI

Artwork for Billy Nomates' 2023 album CACTI

The music does the talking on Billy Nomates’ new album.

If you do a search for Tor Maries’ alter ego, one of the suggested options is ‘Billy Nomates’ age’.

The term is an imperfect summarising of what being a female musician is, even though we’re post-Me Too and well into the twenties, and also proof that things which don’t matter still matter when they shouldn’t.

Invented after some barracking at a gig which she was at on her own, to complicate things Billy Nomates is neither an alter ego or a stage name, more of a wrong impression to be used selectively.

Its artistic birth came after a series of musical dead ends – the last ‘a mathematical folk band’ – that coincided with a bout of depression, a rut eventually snapped in 2019 at a gig by arch polemicists Sleaford Mods.

It might have been an unlikely place for an epiphany, but after striking up a relationship it led a collaboration with the duo (2021’s Mork And Mindy) and an eponymous debut album produced by Geoff Barrow.

Low budget and without compromise, its highlight was the awkwardly hilarious Fat White Man, for which afterwards Billy Nomates had to produce a tedious explanatory tract on behalf of social’s media’s army of the permanently offended.

What happened next was a now familiar story of pandemic momentum sapping, but recorded between Invada Studios and her flat, CACTI is a follow up that uncorks a different kind of tension.

The creative process involved stepping out of her discomfort zone: ‘I picked up old drum machines…then raided the cupboards and rooms at Invada Studios to play and experiment with old synths, an upright piano, this weird organ thing.’

What transpires is a collection of songs that are, if anything, even more fierce and brutal lyrically – opener ‘balance is gone’ starts with, ‘My inner peace is broken into five/I meditate, but I am not alive’, whilst adding some melodic light and shade.

The juxtaposition throws up some awkwardly stark moments, the hardest on ‘blue bones (deathwish)’ via the pithy yet terrifyingly honest, ‘Death don’t turn me on like it used to’, but this is a confession played out over what for Billy Nomates is a relatively high functioning pop song.

Despair, it’s revealed, isn’t exactly in the rearview mirror and its sources are many – be it Britain’s political dissonance, music industry stooges or a lack of underlying self-belief. The singer has even admitted that co-producer James Trevascus salvaged parts of CACTI she herself had little confidence in.

Of course, it’s hard to tell anybody that it’ll be OK with sincerity, but there are moments here which any artist would be proud of, reclaimed from the scrap heap or not.

Already a single, the punky rake of ‘spite’, with its glorious first person refrain of, ‘Don’t you act like I ain’t the fucking man’, throws down all comers, whilst the ‘weird organ thing’ of ’roundabout sadness’ could register big on PJ Harvey’s strange-o-meter and ‘fawner’ does broken down west country like Angel Olsen.

If before there were narrower margins to worry about, a door on the past has been closed that will now take some opening. In this uncertain present, closer ‘blackout signal’ swaps anger for a kind of low-key epic, whilst ‘same gun’ smartly drags the inherent soul of her voice over the horizon once and for all.

Who cares how old she is, or what she weighs, or where she was last week (the answer will SHOCK you). On CACTI, Billy Nomates is taking prisoners for the first time.

Come quietly now, dance and listen.

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