Album Review: Vanessa Peters – Foxhole Prayers

Foxhole Prayers album cover - etching

First up, allow us to point out that Foxhole Prayers has one of the most intricate CD layouts and artworks we’ve seen in a while.

Foxhole Prayers album cover - etching

Get Started is an anthem for a fast-paced world, like a warning to a younger self: “I tried to meditate but couldn’t still my thoughts/I tried to turn it down a notch but found that I could not/so, get started when you are young.” The song is somehow calming and vibrant at the same time.

Before It Falls Away has a piece tracking the vocal line that’s just subtle enough to be unsettling, There’s a thematic link to the previous track: “most of us just trying to make it through the day/caught up in a constant deadline.”

Fight feels like the consequence of living life in the spotlight: “got tired of being poked and examined/submitted for approval but always found wanting.” However, it’s not about submission. It’s about kicking back just as hard: “smile less and show more teeth/get out there and fight, girl/bring ’em to their knees.”

That spirit of defiance sounds through the music and is turned on avarice: “money’s just a fad/it’s just something that we all go through/it’s not the object/it’s just a thing we had.”

This Riddle explores a “head full of all the bits I saved” as she replays how she replays lies and choices. It’s fitting that there’s a false ending given that she’s explaining that there’s always something more to consider and be concerned about. Peter’s vocal is calming and she doesn’t sound stressed despite the struggle she describes; the point is that it’s become normalised.

The title track, Foxhole Prayer, has percussive sounds redolent of wartime. The cacophony recedes as Peters sings sweetly over increasingly enclosing fuzzy guitars and encroaching danger: “The sky is falling all around/surrounded by this fear/please don’t let us down.”

Just One Of Them interogates the myth of the American Dream: “that ragged dream is full of holes poked through/and the threads left behind don’t hang true.” She’s lost in a crowd with no ability to help the huddled masses.

Carnival Barker continues the theme, riffing on “how America could really turn a profit if we’d only set her free.” If you’re not seeing real world parallels, try this for size: “You’ll get a circus, history told us, if you vote for a clown/but the grifters pitched their tents and the good word got drowned out.”

Peters explained: “I’m a literature geek at heart and for years I’ve wanted to do an album somehow influenced by The Great Gatsby, but the idea seemed much too nerdy and abstract but after I re-read it last year, it dawned on me that we were literally reliving the Gatsby years. Suddenly I could see all the corrupt and self-indulgent characters from the book all around me, with Trump as some kind of PT Barnum-meets-Warren G. Harding character.”

Trolls also uses metaphor for modern day maladies: “they’re counting on your kindness to catch you off your guard…it’s like a poison dart straight into your head.” The vocal feels distant and electronic until the chorus steels for the righteous fight ahead: “you know the bullies always lose but it will take us a long, long time to beat them.

What You Can’t closes the album with a gentle assessment of the contemporary scene: “The fury dies down quickly/no longer paid any heed/and all of this tragedy’s got us bored.” She stays behind dealing with the psychological impact of trauma.

Foxhole Prayers succeeds in exploring the modern world of alternative facts and populist politics through rich metaphors and a literary sense of scale.