Celloist Abi Wade’s debut single captivated me so I was delighted when her debut album came out earlier this month. It’s a symphonic mixture of chamber pop, classical undertones and, although it’s a little lazy in comparison, a bit of Kate Bush thrown in if the Bush went onto the classical dance floor in Vienna, not London.
The opening track is the kickstart march of “A Bit Like Love” which grows from solemn piano chords to a rousing stream of strings, piano, vocal booms and drums. Abi’s voice has an interesting timbre that helps with the Kate Bush comparison but actually, over the course of the album, Wade’s voice takes on its own bark as she switches often between emphasising individual words to bending notes in a very elongated fashion. “Reasonable Doubt” starts to wax on Abi’s cello skills. Much of the ambience here, and across the album relies on different noises she can create from her instrument of choice. The creaks, the string scruffs, the groans – it’s all here and makes the anti-dance track all the better. Its chorus is great and shows off the electro-percussion side of the album which comes to the fore in “Laws and Mankind” which is a slow burner of church bells, crunching drum loops and cello loops. The album is theatrical from beginning to end and Abi has that mystique down to perfection. “Hawk by your Side” is probably the best example of everything as moody cellos, piano and thundering drums pound behind doomlike backing vocals and Abi’s main riffs.
If I were critical, there’s a sound level problem across all the production of the album – it feels thin. “Lucia” exposes this most with its artsy delivery of various instruments where most of the track is instrumental until its final explosion. Instruments feel squashed and lacking bass, or clarity and its because the vocal is on the top of the mix – but its so fragile (on emotion, that’s not a critism), it dips in and out of the rest of the mix and muddies things slightly. On first listen, I wanted to just keep turning up the volume, but it made it louder – not more powerful. “Wanted” does play more with the bass of the kickdrums and cello and the song sounds much fuller than the rest of the album – more of that production in the future please! “Golden Abyss” pushes the album towards cello rock and reminds me of Rasputina in places which is no bad thing at all, whilst “Obsession” and “Vandalising” are symphonic electropop done kooky. The closing track “We Are in Sight” is a warped vocal and piano ballad where the vocals sound like they’re on a chewed up record tape. It’s creepy, eerie but also reflective and charming too – a real mix of emotions.
There’s a lot to love about Abi Wade’s debut album. The production nitpicks aside, I found the symphonic and abstract sides of the albums really come together beautifully and when being theatrical and dramatic – there’s little less like it out there at the moment. She’s not quite avant-garde but she’s not really toeing any other line either – and that makes this album’s title perfectly apt.
Recommended track: A Bit Like Love
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