Ana Silvera – ‘Oracles’ reviewed

❉  BASCA-nominated song cycle ‘Oracles’ is a powerful work of acceptance and integrity by an extraordinary vocalist, writes Eoghan Lyng.

“My mother opened my mind to some great writers when I was pretty young” Ana Silvera told M Magazine. “I loved the way words could illuminate everyday life, make the mundane extraordinary.” Inspired by the saddening loss of her mother and brother, Oracles is a study in musical grief, choral infused melodies lead way to piano pined moribund magic. It’s a fascinatingly potent and powerful listen, complete with some staggering moments of singing.

There are touches of Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work on the opening track Tears of Oak, Fist of Willow a haunting chant of death and acceptance. “It won’t bring him back” Silvera sings with operatic opulence, a shimmering song of weary wordings. Oracles is self-described as a cathartic work of art, which explores loss, love, salvation and the journey towards acceptance- it’s all here on Tears of Oak.  It’s an arresting opener and the most successful on the album, though the subject matter is a sad and difficult one. It’s not an extraordinarily innovative song (it is very much in the Kate Bush school), but it compensates with skill and nuance which marks much of its power.

I Grew Up A Room, Small As A Penny, homely in sound and lyrical content, feels pretty in a tale both nostalgic and nihilistic. Catherine Wheels tastefully weaves a chilling cello carefully combing the piano’s ascending accentuation. This is an album for BBC Radio 3 listeners, willowed in watery atmosphere and strident in symphonic singing. Recorded at Roundhouse Theatre Studio, the works of guest musicians Bill Laurance (Snarky Puppy), Jasper Høiby (Phronesis), Jacob Smedegaard (Fiction, Beth Jeans Houghton) are an asset.

The album has some more fun forays. When The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is delightfully Irish in melody, complete with rhythmic upper placed jazz bass playing placidly. Heart is jocular in the all the right ways, a series of performances with Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Iceland Airwaves Festival, SXSW and Liverpool Royal Philharmonic are clear in their display. Skeleton Song is nicely played with musical dichotomy, a Tony Banksesque piano opener leads to Amy Winehouse rumbles and blues tumbles. Circle of Chalk has tinges of Rubber Soul Beatle balladry (complete with choral “la la la la’s” , though  brought to life with Silvera’s stylistic and commanding vocals.

It’s worth noting that point: Silvera is an extraordinary vocalist. The cadences she hits on Chalk are on a tier beside soul legends Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin. Her voice on Pearls and Thieves has choral qualities that only Anohni could compete with. While her songwriting influences are a little too apparent on some tracks (there’s a lot of esoteric Bjork and Kate Bush thinly disguised at times), her singing style is exquisite, with a shattering resonance that matches much of the best of Thom Yorke on Kid A.

It’s a powerful work of acceptance and integrity that does justice to the very thing death is an exact component of. This is an album that speaks about life, Silvera’s life and the listeners.

‘Oracles’ will be released by Gearbox Records on 6 July 2018. Pre-order from Juno Records.

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