Whenever musicians from well-known bands join together to start a “supergroup” type project, the results often end up sounding like a watered-down retread of all the bands they came from. Not so with Piroshka, a new quartet that pairs former Lush frontwoman Miki Berenyi with ex-Elastica drummer Justin Welch, Modern English bassist Mick Conroy, and guitarist KJ “Moose” McKillop, formerly of ‘90s dream-pop act Moose.
Brickbat, the band’s debut album due in February via Bella Union, begins with a squall of feedback before a reverb-drenched guitar line rises up into the foreground, as if it had drifted straight off an ‘80s record released on 4AD — the label that gave us classic titles from ’80s new wavers Modern English and ’90s shoegaze greats Lush. Slashing guitars then join in, immediately recalling the way Britpop stars Elastica wore the post-punk influence of Wire on their sleeve.
Throughout the album, listeners will recognize the familiar strains of those bands’ sounds, but Piroshka also stretch well beyond what we might expect, by incorporating experimental electronic backdrops and billowing chord changes that verge on jazz. Not to mention that the playing on Brickbat, though undeniably more mature, also crackles with a vitality and edge that we rarely hear from musicians who are decades removed from their most iconic work.
Berenyi tells Billboard she was able to draw new expressions from her playing thanks to the challenge of a daisy chain writing process she’d never tried before. “With Lush, the songs that we wrote were very much [Lush co-founder] Emma [Anderson]’s song or my song,” the singer-guitarist explains. “The songs that were credited to both tended to be Emma’s music and my lyrics. Although there would be some embellishments in the studio, Emma would work more closely with a producer than the rest of the band. The playing was seen as quite separate a thing from the writing. What was new with this was that Justin would send a sound file with some drums and maybe a bit of a lyric, or some percussion, keyboards or guitars on it as a basic background. I’d never really had that, like ‘Okay, this is your starting point.’ So I’d add some bits, and then when Mick would add bass, it would take it into a completely different direction. This was a much more collaborative, relay-race way of doing it.”
Berenyi also got to explore new avenues lyrically as well. It’s no accident that the band decided on the album title Brickbat, a British slang term that’s used to describe both a missile-like projectile weapon and a sharp brand of criticism (as in, “throwing brickbats”). Accordingly, the album is rife with an undercurrent of stress, and even outrage, that gives it a decidedly modern edge, featuring lyrical contributions from both Berenyi and McKillop that address topics of the moment like Brexit, school shootings, and income disparity.
Both lyricists struck a balance, though, between the political and the personal, which sets Brickbat apart. In so many ways, the album humanizes its subjects by making them relatable at the level of being a single individual trying to process and cope with them — spiked, of course, with Berenyi’s singular razor-like wit. “Justin is really into bands like Sleaford Mods — he likes that aggressive, punky, political thing,” she explains. “I had a go at that” — she chuckles — “and it was just appalling. I just can’t do it. It comes out too preachy. This was as close as I could come. [My perspective] is always going to be quite introverted. It’s about how you feel about the things rather than just the things themselves or an overview or statement of fact.”
The album’s overarching outlook is encapsulated in the new video for “Everlastingly Yours.” Berenyi explains that directors Chris Bigg and Martin Andersen based the imagery on the album artwork, with a series of still shots that “sort of obliquely” play off McKillop’s lyrics so that, in Bigg’s own words, “viewers could form their own narrative” out of a mix of “dark images, happy images, children’s drawings, and a color palette of blacks, yellows, pinks and reds which has an edge [to match] the highs and lows of everyday living.”
Watch the video’s exclusive premiere below.