This ‘Briana Marela’ review was written by Kevin Buckland, a GIGsoup contributor

4*Iceland is a land of fairytale mysticism, undulating landscapes and volcanoes. A country with an unbridled pedigree of producing, and influencing a vibrant and eclectic mix of contemporary musical styles. From the innovative pop and electronica of Björk, to the post-rock of Sigur Rós, and the minimalist instrumental compositions of Australian born experimental music composer Ben Frost.

Hailing from Seattle USA, Briana Marela decamped to Reykjavík for the sessions for All Around Us. Enlisting the production talents of long time Sigur Rós collaborator Alex Somers, together with string ensemble Amiina, also regular cohorts of the idiosyncratic Icelanders. The influence of Somers is strikingly evident in the opening track Follow it. Featuring layers of multi-tracked “ooh’s” and “la’s” in the introduction to create a bedrock of sound, before the commencement of the actual vocals and keyboards. The piece is minimal in feel, and very reminiscent of Kate Bush meeting Björk and Steve Reich in style. This is a thread that carries over into the rest of the tracks on the album.

Take Care of Me is beautiful in its elegance and simplicity. Featuring ethereal Sigur Rós’esque, breathy vocals, and sustained keyboard pads, it feels almost glacial and distinctly autumnal, woven over a hypnotic percussion track. Friend Tonight follows, and it is here that the album’s repetition comes to the fore, with Marela singing, “Don’t come back to my bed tonight, I just need a friend tonight” over and over, as though it were a kind of Zen mantra. This is a compositional trick that shows up multiple times over the course of the album, creating a vaguely hypnotic effect with the repeated lines. The hauntingly beautiful Dani is a another example of the use of this trick. Featuring as it does just piano, strings, vocals and a generous helping of reverb. The repeated vocal line never once manages to become repetitive. This is thanks mainly to the clever arrangement of the instruments that fade, swell and swirl in, out and around the floating vocal line, gradually building in intensity as the song progresses.

Everything Is New, is a gloriously beautiful song, and is probably the standout track on the album. Marela lets it breathe and develop slowly, with only a subtle drone accompanying the layered and looped vocal collage of “oohs” and “aahs”, that builds gradually in to a massed chorus of crystalline sweetness.

The album rounds off with the hushedly, euphoric beauty of Further. The introduction to which is a repeating feedback loop from the tail end of the previous track, this fades gradually away, and is replaced steadily with voices overlaid on voices, and strings that rise and fall, the sound building upwards and outwards in waves.

This is an album of stark, icy and ethereal beauty, an album whose tracks evoke strong images of the Icelandic landscape in to which it was born. It’s most definitely an album for relaxing to, with even the rhythmically driven tracks imbuing as they do, a peaceful ambience.

This is only Marela’s second album, and her first for the Jagjaguwar label. If you listen to tracks from her previous release you’ll be able to see the development that has taken place in her songwriting during the ensuing period. Marela is clearly a very skilled and clever manipulator of sound, using loops and treated layers of her vocals, to craft mini symphonies, the listener will discover much in this album that will impress.

‘All Around Us’ is out now on Jagjaguwar

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4*

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