What does Tasha Zappala sound like?
Hazy field recordings, folk instruments and lush harp arrangements that call in from another world.
The review of Tasha Zappala – From the Porch
I’ve no idea what goes on in Tasmania but if Tasha Zappala’s porch field recordings from the southern forests are anything to go by, it must be a magical place. Tasha’s latest album is one of dense sonic discovery. She’s spent time recording all kinds of forest sounds and then combined them with angelic instruments and otherworld vocal arrangements to create something special. This is an album to get lost in whilst never leaving your headphones at all.
‘Chimes’ opens the album with Tasha’s porch chimes (they sound like Koshi chimes to me at times) gently ringing in the sounds. From here the forest creeps in. Animals, streams trickling, insect buzzes and the air through the trees – it’s all here and alive. As the world moves around you, beautiful harp noodling from Tiff Norchick feather in and out along with tiny piano plinks. Tasha’s voice gently coos in and out like a mysterious shroud and whilst no words are said, the ethereal atmosphere is intoxicating.
This isn’t an album of pure soundscapes though. Tash Zappala writes some beautiful folk songs too and ‘Tend’ kicks off this portion of the album. Reminding me heavily of Emiliana Torrini, a soft, hushed and layered vocal delivery that sounds so intimate and warm leads us through the forest recordings. Harp, piano and acoustic guitar gently sway like pieces of a melody so tenderly and delicately that when one instrument is missing, it doesn’t feel complete. If I were to describe how I felt listening to the album as a whole, I’d say I felt nurtured and that begins with ‘Tend’. The track ‘Cedar’ follows with a rootsy number. The track is more electric with some cute and clumsy bass instrumentation that provides a bouncy character to the sweet-natured piece. Zappala’s voice quivers when she breaks from her hushed tone like an archer’s bow about to give way. It adds a lot of weight and emotion to the piece as birdsong surrounds the folksy instrumentation.
Intimate piano that sounds taken straight from a European contemporary classical album evokes rainfall in ‘Fall’. Its playful splashes of notes dash and plinky plink around the acoustic guitar and backing vocals that hold the main melody. It is such a calming piece, again against forest tweets, toad croaks and cricket chirps rustling away in the background. We never leave the forest floor across the album, so it sounds like Tasha Zappala is playing the album from her porch in a forest hut. ‘To Keep’ moves us into night time where the late-night crickets and harmonium drones create a meditative backdrop. The waltzing minor-keyed guitar and improvisational harp solos make this a sister track to ‘Chimes’. It’s just a bit darker and the harp is being the virtuoso here, not the wind chimes.
‘Sink’ has a Parisian feel to me. Here the chords and general guitar playing sound like it’s taking place on a street corner in France. It is also the first time the album has sounded darker and brooding. Tasha’s voice takes on a jagged skip like Fiona Apple’s does on some of her more recent work. When paired with some bass drones and some animal cackles and cries, suddenly the forest has hints of fangs. The track pairs nicely with ‘South’, as an unrushed blues piece between uke, piano, harp and voice. It sounds like Tasha is longing for the southern forest and this piece is an ode to it.
We then come to the magnum opus of the album. ‘From the Porch’ is a 25-minute song that is more akin to a meditative forest folk movement. Every sound you’ve heard in the album is represented here, but it is not a rehash. It is more like a guided tour around the forest floor from the safety of a porch view. Tasha chats away, laughs, sings and playful brings her instruments and friends along for the ride. As a creative piece, it’s like having an entire side B to the album as a conceptual piece of art. It starts out like a folk song around a fire and slowly over the 25 minutes things become hazier, dreamier and more ethereal. It is as if we’ve become enchanted by the forest and succumbed to its wills and wants. Then we arrived in a utopian sanctuary for a glass of wine.
I absolutely love the sound design of this album. The forest never leaves your side but it never takes over the recordings either. Instead, it allows movements of harp, guitar, voice and melodic percussion to drift around like wandering beasts in the forest itself. Like the warm touch of a familiar friend’s hand to reassure you, this album is like a comfort blanket for the majority of its hour runtime. I recommend listening to it where you can appreciate stereo sound too. You’ll feel like you are on the porch with Tasha Zappala, enjoying nature and her folk songs too. Truly a special album.
Recommended track: From the Porch
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