Languid and dreamy electronica infused chamber folk from the West Coast of Wales via Danielle Lewis.
Release date: 19th November 2021
Label: Red Robin Records
Format: CD/Vinyl/Digital (via Bandcamp)
Danielle Lewis is a name not well known, at least yet. With only a bevy of EPs and digital releases behind her, this is her first full-length outing, but it stakes well her claim to being at least equal to the talents flooding out of North America these past few years, those ethereal voices that combine incisive lyrics and cinematic melodies, defiantly feminine yet fierce with it. Julia Holter and Weyes Blood might be references, and, yes, even Lana Del Rey in her 2021 iteration(s); aspects of each infuse her work, if with an intrinsically welsh hue seeping also in, as a delicate Celtic flavouring.
It was her 2018 EP, Live Forever, that first drew her much attention, including that of Cian Ciaran, keyboards man with Super Furry Animals, and an offer of working with him. However, already allied to the Cardiff hip-hop artist, Secondson (Leon West), who had produced some of her earlier work, she elected to stay under his patronage, hunkering down during lockdowns to build up this elegant collection. Unable to play live, a number of tracks have preceded, as singles, gaining further recognition. Lush textures, both electronic and organic, come from Secondson, adept on guitars, cello, bass, drums and an array of vintage synthesisers, which combine with the additional intrumentation, provided by Alex Hibbert, guitars and vibraphone, T.J. Roberts, guitars, and Johana Hartwig, violins and viola, all providing together a dense haze of orchestration, through which Lewis’ voice soars like sunlight.
A Woman Like You sets the scene, drawn-out sweeps of cello, viola and violin together lay out a majestic backcloth which puts firm focus on the vocal, double and treble tracked to add emphasis to the simple swoon of melody. The title track follows with her voices now embedded within a warm glow of echoed piano, a drumbeat and some woozy synth: an aural evocation of Dreamtime. This mood perpetuates into My Youth, the vibraphone a more distinct presence, paired with the piano. “I was last seen at sea”, she sings, the mood transcendent between hope and regret.
Flower is then a little more solid, carrying a hymnal feel, the synthesisers recalling a a silver band, the resultant ambience of a desolate chapel caught in a shaft of moonlight. With vocals that are more sound than narrative, sometimes a little hard to discern but suffering none for that. In My Sleep offers some greater clarity, just voice and an electronic soundscape billowing around it, redolent of Clannad at their intoxicating finest. Secondson wrenches the emotions here in a masterclass of minimalism. Slow, Sad and Real, itself an apt descriptor for the whole project, now breaks, a little, the prevailing mood, with jagged percussive clashes of percussive tonality. Sure, no way could you call this upbeat, but it offers some sense of hope, just as the mood seemed ever more downward. Realism, perhaps, rather than optimism, Temporary being on the same upward trajectory, Lewis channeling a Karen Carpenter on psilocybin, as plucked guitars and a Wurlitzer shimmer about her.
Life Of Worth is a further reflective piece, some effect pedal heavy pedal steel adding to the sense of languorousness, a haunting ear worm of a tune. I am thinking it positive. The simpler and starker Let Me Imagine has her double-tracked vocal over the bare bones of guitar and, unrecognisably, dobro, echo giving it a chiming lustre, clearing the decks ahead of the final track, Help Me. This closer provides a perfect bookend, an infectious strummed lament and another satisfyingly memorable refrain: “Heaven can’t help me now“, which is chilling, however you interpret it
This is a beguiling and extraordinary record. Knowing she is bilingual, some earlier work having been in the Welsh language, would it be perverse to want to hear it in that language? Whilst the words are undoubtedly important, see above, to the songs and the mood, the nature of her voice can be that they can become a distraction from the ambient mood, not that I would wish that to be in any way a criticism. More, maybe, a request? Special edition? But, when all is said and done, this is such a minor quibble that it feels churlish to raise, and shouldn’t stand in the way of anyone wanting a punt on one of the better records of this year. Go for it, get in and wallow.
Here’s Slow, Sad and Real: