What does Briana Marela sound like?
An experimental synthesized look at grief and rebirth.
The review of Briana Marela – You Are A Wave
Sometimes an album needs context to fully appreciate where someone is coming from. Briana Marela lost her father in April 2020 when all the covid restrictions came into force. Her father lived in Peru whereas Briana had moved to America and it took 19 months before Briana could get any kind of closure or burial, separated by closed borders. Under that intense perpetual suspended animation, Briana took to writing as a way to get her feelings in order. “You Are A Wave” is the result.
Everything about this album is a pure artistic expression – very little feels like it bends to any commercial whim at all. This makes melodies abstract, song structures varied and the general instrumentation used all over the place. There is a common musical sound palette though. Briana Marela uses a Buchla synth throughout. This is a MIDI synth that gives out in this case odd atonal drone sine waves. Sometimes pulses, sometimes drone, and always a bit odd when it is carrying the entire song, usually, you have these instrument designers as part of a wider collection of sound. Here, Briana is literally creating a sound wave for the song to live through a bit like life. Songs then transform away from that original sound wave. The title track opens with a lonely minimal synth that slowly turns into an ocean wave as Briana sings over the top of it. The two follow a similar pattern and this idea of transmutation continues across the album.
It’s very experimental though. “Silver Tongue” takes a four-note riff on a synth and then deconstructs it. Twisting from synth to vocal sample and then into modular-sounding chaos, it’s as if the waveform of life is being toyed with. “Turquoise and Amethyst” is seven minutes of fits and starts of computer bleeps that sound like tuneful metal detectors finding debris underground. “Self” is a collage of vocal snippets being sped through at a hyperlight speed. It’s as if the 19 months of confusion are being crunched into two minutes of “hmm”. “In The Garden” is a live recording sample that sounds like an ASMR sound bath. Bubbly tuneful synths trickle around icy pads, dual whispered vocals and shakers. “Arc” is six minutes of phased attacks being pitch bent so you can’t call a note a note anymore. As it speeds up and down, the arc of a note or shooting star gets more chaotic and difficult to pigeonhole. Throughout the album, samples of Mill’s Eclipse Quartet are used to make new samples and sounds to give an emboldened realism to some sounds. However, the closing live performance of “Two Colors” benefits from the dual running of real strings and synths performing together in a tentative mood.
Without knowing the story of Briana Marela, I feel like some of the meaning of the album is lost to its abstract art. It is a sound design piece more than a melodic collection of songs and so being able to hear the music through a mental lens of life as a waveform helps draw the listener to their own conclusions. It’s high art, a challenging listen and very avant-garde but there are moments of tuneful beauty and things to ponder on too. A difficult recommendation outside of the sound design and modular synth arena but if you enjoy the weirder side of synths, Briana Marela has a story to tell.
Recommended track: Silver Tongue
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