Early Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom unleashed their inner Cocteau Twin and discovered it was a bit of a goth…
Johanna Glaza has been creating bewitching music for several years and ‘Exile’ serves a timely reminder that she is a unique treasure in the world of music. Her voice soars and flutters from another world around her often delicate chamber pop music arrangements. ‘Exile’ marks a change of direction as more instruments join the marching band. This time around Glaza isn’t afraid of sounding ugly too.
It is clear from the titular track that opens the album that Johanna’s scope has widened. Here we have epic drum machines smashing cymbals like titans clashing. Johanna herself wails like a wounded warrior and the track itself sways like its stumbling away from a bloody battle. Along with the album artwork, it sets the scene that whilst piano and voice are central, this world is expansive. This continues into ‘Dear Life’ which starts out with a happy point and squirt beginning before descending into a rumbling madness. Johanna repeats over ‘don’t give up on me’ as the music boils up and then the fever dream halts and things return to the daily shuffle. It’s a clever use of two-chord progressions and rage of emotions that can swamp a track.
‘Isabella’ continues to tap into that existential crisis in what is a fantastic track. ‘Monsters that we’ve got inside will not find us here today’ declares Glaza as the music moves from a hazy fog into a Hitchcock chase sequence. The piano actively stalks you with its b-movie tones and the percussion riles up too. The album has a recurring theme of feeling chased into your comfort zone and different songs come out swinging from that experience in different ways. ‘Lonely Island’ takes the stance that your place of safety shouldn’t be one of solitude. The piano, drums and various metal sound effects all work together to create an off-kilter circus feeling. Vocally Glaza sounds like a cross over between Elizabeth Fraiser and Joanna Newsom but when paired with the cabaret edges of the music with this song specifically, you’ll enjoy the Kate Bush vibes.
Moving more towards the twinkling 70’s psychedelia, ‘King’s Alive’ is a gentle patter of piano dances, whistles, snowy percussion and its the white mage track of the album. It is graceful and elegant whilst still keeping a slice of haunting in the musical cocktail in the background. Johanna uses her voice to create a variety of background noises that sound not of this world. It is worth putting on headphones for this track alone. The short folk piece ‘Catch and Escape’ seems to acknowledge that not all battles can be won and it paves the way for the finale ‘Albion’. This eight-minute epic takes an element of everything we’ve had before and smashes it together into a magnum opus of a track. It displays Johanna Glaza at her finest both vocally and as a songwriter. I’d heard the track before as the single and I loved it. What I wasn’t prepared for was ‘Albion’ feels so earned and cathartic when you experience the album as a whole. You’ve worked for all those dramatic pauses and marches. You’ve poured over pieces of yourself with each of the tracks beforehand and then ‘Albion’ feels like the culmination of it all.
This pulls back to the opening point about sounding ugly. Often when you get musical sirens, they like to tow an ethereal line. That is great but this album isn’t afraid to smash a drum kit in anger. Johanna is quite frank when she’s pouting and spitting out home truths like she’s owning all the coupons to mental clarity. It is refreshing to hear someone with the vocal capacity that she has focus on feeling and melody. Glaza is not one for coasting.
‘Exile’ is a rewarding album that gives over and over as many times as you want it to. You can enjoy it as a piece of storytelling with a beautiful voice and quirky musical delivery and for many that will be enough. If you really want to dig deeper, Johanna Glaza has a cavern of secrets ready for you to uncover and that marks it easily as one of the finest albums released in 2020.