[10 July 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The word “drone” shows up in the titles of two tracks on this debut solo LP by Sydney, Australia-based singer Ela Stiles, of the bands Songs and Bushwalking. “Drone” might seem an odd word for an a-cappella singer who also will sing a direct, minute-long lovelorn folk song like “Legs Won’t Bend”. The first half of the album mainly contains those little songs, and they’re spellbinding, heartbreaking. The opener “Kumbh Mela” is in some ways abstract but in others direct. The song gets hazy as she sings about the starry sky, yet it’s brutal, too: “I saw that people are down around you.” It feels like a traditional folk song, but not; an impression that carries through the album. A perfect example, “Anything”, is pretty and sad in every one of its 39 seconds. It starts, “If I could make you happy… .”
The main “drone”, “Drone Transitions”, is the second side of the LP, 10 minutes, which compared with the minute-long numbers feels expansive and galactic. Here, there is an undercurrent of sound that does resemble ambient drones, while Stiles sings over it in a flowing outpouring of words that aren’t completely graspable but sometimes are. It’s a layering of voice that stands in contrast with the other songs while feeling the same, pulling from the same sadness, same wide view out towards the universe, the same probing look inward, the same understanding of the power of human-generated sounds.