EP: Self Esteem – ‘Cuddles Please’

Where once Rebecca Lucy Taylor sought your compliments, now it’s a gentler, more tactile, and reassuring contact that she’s looking for. And that change in tone is largely the theme of this EP, which features three versions of songs from her debut as Self Esteem, along with a cover of one of Rebecca’s favourites by Alex Cameron. It would be deceptively simple to dub the songs taken from Compliments Please as ‘stripped-back’ – the majority of the songs feature just vocals, piano and some strings, but there’s still plenty of oomph, especially given that backing vocals are provided by the massed ranks of Sheffield’s Neighbourhood Voices choir.

What’s also striking about the three re-worked tracks is how the change in them reflects the change in mood from the alt.pop bombast of Compliments Please to a minor key here; if not exactly sombre, then certainly more reflective and emotional.

The EP’s art shows Taylor on the set of the video for ‘The Best’, in all-grey sweats, phone in hand, as if to say: “Here’s the artist behind the performer”. And, whereas the single was a quick-fire romp through a love-hate relationship, here it sounds practically elegiac, with its latter half gaining added emotional weight by way of a string quartet. ‘In Time’, meanwhile, has switched from a low-wave neo-pop grower, laced with autotune and artificial beats, to something altogether more spectral and ethereal, with Taylor at her most expressive and its lyrics even more pointed. 

In truth, the change to the majority of ‘Favourite Problem’ is possibly the least dramatic, as it was already one of the rawest songs on Compliments Please. But, as an introduction to this EP, it’s perfect, with its middle eight making perfect use of the delicate harmonies of the choir. 

The closer, a cover of Alex Cameron’s neo-croon celebration of debauchery, ‘Miami Memory’, is the simplest song on the album. That may be because, in Taylor’s opinion, it’s “one of the greatest love songs ever written” – but, where the original has a degree of detachment, this is a pure torch song.

During her days as one half of Slow Club, Self Esteem initially started as an art project, a way for Taylor to find ways to express herself without restriction. And whilst there are plenty of artists for whom the division between art and life is very thin, in the confessional landscape of postWinehouse British pop, it is Taylor’s voice that sounds loudest, and most honestly. What Cuddles Please shows is that, in the intermingling of her professional and personal lives, and amidst her desire to create new ways of making pop music, Taylor is one hell of a songwriting and vocal talent. More of this, please.


Cuddles Please is out now. Listen on Spotify.

Taylor has also been busy during lockdown curating digital festival PXSSY PANDEMIQUE, featuring an all-female-identifying lineup of artists, poets, comedians and more, including the likes of NIMMO, Bishi, Little Boots, Helen Bauer, Rozi Plain and many more. The first two have been a huge success, so far raising over £7,000 for Women’s Aid. Of the festival, she explains:

“Before the Pandemic I was pretty annoyed about the discrepancy between male and female acts on festival bills. I had gotten into a dialogue on the internet with some of the replies being ‘… there just aren’t as many women making music as men’ which obviously boiled my brain and made my nose bleed. So anyway Kelli (collaborator and bestie) and I thought why not organise a femme-only festival online in the first few weeks of the lockdown. I couldn’t believe the amount we raised for Women’s Aid and I felt as soon as the government inevitably announced an extension of the lockdown we should do another one…”

John McGovern

Track Of The Day: Self Esteem – ‘Rollout’

What happens when one of the UK’s most underrated indie performers decides to go pop? You get Self Esteem. Normally known as Rebecca Lucy Taylor, often with the words “…one half of Slow Club” attached to her name, her latest single ‘Rollout’ is the third official release under the Self Esteem moniker, after the ‘Wrestling’ single and Your Wife EP. The track, much like its predecessors, sees the Notorious RLT take things in an RnB direction with a big influence from American pop acts of the nineties and noughties, at first listen a big step away from her regular gig with the Sheffield duo.

With its snappy snare-heavy percussion, ‘Rollout’ opens insistently, and that’s before its lyrical hook kicks in: “I got one more in me / I got one more in me”, sings Taylor. Promising, but weary, sexual, but resigned, it’s a recurring image throughout the track’s melancholic take on the mature pop of the likes of Aaliyah and Madonna. Taylor’s voice is eerily reminiscent of those artists, especially after ‘Rollout’s first and second choruses, but its bitter yet flirty tone is uniquely hers. The chorus couplet of “What I might have achieved / If I wasn’t trying to please”, with its evocation of ideas unfulfilled and time wasted – trying to satisfy someone unsatisfiable – sounds ever more frustrated with each iteration. Backing up Taylor’s voice are organs, a little fleck of guitar here and there, finger snaps and tambourine. If mournful groove is your thing, it’s here in spades.

Taylor has spoken in interviews about her desire to do something pop for many years, even though she’s generally been associated with indie bands during that time. And yet, just as there’s always been an underlying pop seam in those groups – warped glam rock in Moonlandingz, sophisti-pop with Slow Club – ‘Rollout’ is more than just a stab at conquering the charts. Described by its creator as “a simple bloody break-up song”, its clever use of sparse, multi-tracked vocals and construction of a chorus that’ll stay with you for days, makes ‘Rollout’ something more. Coupled with its slick, stylised and self-aware video, it’s the best thing that Taylor has released under the Self Esteem banner to date. Drink it in, it’ll break your heart, in style.

John McGovern