The chamber doom soundtrack for the end of the world.
Concept albums can be a blessing and a curse but they often show an artist committing to a certain story, vision, soundscape or feel. Sóley returns to her solo career with ‘Mother Melancholia’, a concept album around the end of the world as we know it. It is supremely distressed. From its claustrophobic string arrangements to its blown speaker pianos and post-rock grizzled noise, nothing is still or relaxed. All except Sóley’s voice – hauntingly hushing the world to sleep. It’s an album that commits to its vision and it’s not an easy listen.
‘Mother Melancholia’ has songs that fall into two distinct categories. Some are more traditional songs in terms of motifs, vocals, melody and tune. Other tracks are noise, drone and eerie haunted soundscapes lifted from a horror movie. They are often transitional notes that spiral out of control into a warning siren of pending doom like ‘xxx’. Part guitar wail, echoing vocal, shivering string and synth – these are the kind of thing you’d expect in abstract drone albums. They work best when listening to the album as a whole because it tells the story of Earth falling down.
Where Sóley shines best is when she places her curious voice in amongst some dense cataclysmic arrangements. Opening ‘Sunrise Skulls’ is a stunning mix of beautifully effervescent strings that bubble, soar, dive and mutate before your ears. It starts off peaceful and desolate and the near eight-minute track has totally transformed by halfway into a pinion wheel of chopped up effects, saddened vocals and creepy piano tinkles. It’s such a tour de force of everything Sóley does so well. It’s followed up by the equally haunting ‘Circles’ which brings a swaying dead finality to things. The piano and strings twist and bend around like they themselves are descending into oblivion. There’s a background effect throughout the song that reminds me of an ultrasound crackle or an underwater water rush that grows and blasts into the Southern guitar strikes of ‘Blows Up’. It’s so southern and dusty Marissa Nadler and Emma Ruth Rundle would be proud. It’s just the accordion takes centre stage instead of the guitar.
After some creepy and haunted sound bridges with ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Parasite’, Sóley’s vocals and tape warped strings return with the depressed symphonic trip-hop of ‘Desert’. It’s so dense and full-on as the strings fall over onto themselves like they can’t hold the heavy weight of the song anymore. The slow drums lethargic smash and Sóley’s own voice feeling like it lost in the noise adds to the lethargy. It is one of my favourite depressing songs of 2021. In contrast ‘In Heaven’ offers an angelic spacious moment of solace with a delicate and airy piano/vocal piece that long time Sóley fans will lap up.
Another highlight is the superb ‘Sundown’. After starting out like a creepy circus piece ala Hannah Fury, the whole track slides like a scream down an abyss and in swoon rolling pianos and waltzing strings to give a satisfying final goodbye to the world. When you listen to the album in full, the track has real gravitas to it and allows ‘xxx”s two-minute echo scream to just ring out like the last scream on Earth. The album ends with ‘Elegia’. It’s a harmonium drone that is slowly drowned out by chaotic wing sheer and white noise until all that’s left is raging noise. Way to end an album with a statement Sóley.
As you can imagine, this isn’t something you pop on for a quick bop. It’s like dragging yourself sonically through treacle rivers in hell. I think Sóley has invented Chamber Doom as a new genre. It’s so rewarding if it clicks with you though. Moments like ‘Sunrise Skulls’, ‘Circles’, ‘Desert’ and ‘Sundown’ are some of my favourite musical moments of 2021 and easily some of Sóley’s best work to date. The rest of the album requires patience and long form listening to truly appreciate them. Give ‘Mother Melancholia’ time and it will reward you back in spades. It’s just those spades are also digging out graves sonically too.
Recommended track: Desert
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