From the silence emerges a stark, pulsing and deeply unsettling synth figure; later, a silken voice comes to the similarly disturbing conclusion that a body is “a vessel for nothing at all”. Few albums begin in as transfixing a fashion as Kellarissa’s second effort, Moon of Neptune, but the record’s unfortunate failure to remain so absorbing is not as uncommon. At its best, the fusion of Kellarissa’s minimalist electronica and crystalline voice can have an entrancing, other-worldy effect. At its worst, these songs are prone to excessive repetition and borderline histrionics, too wrapped up in themselves to work their magic on us.
For some time now, Larissa Loyva has been a significant presence in Vancouver’s productive music scene. In the past, Loyva has been involved with P:ano, The Choir Practice, and Gigi, and has recently become part of Destroyer’s touring band. Kellarissa — Finnish for “in the basement” — is her solo project, under which she released her debut album, Flamingo, on Vancouver label Mint Records in 2008. Also released by Mint, Moon of Neptune is again influenced by Loyva’s Finnish heritage, performed largely on her Yamaha SK15 synthesizer, and recorded in the DIY style her nom de plume implies.
As inconsistent as it is in terms of quality, what holds Moon of Neptune together so strongly is the fact that this is an album about a woman and her synthesizer. While the lyrics cover topics as diverse as money (“Old Money”) and outer space (“Satellites Are Spinning” and “Undock”), the music often carries with it an implication of the potentially unnerving and alienating relationship between human and machine. This theme is made most explicit on the superb “Undock”, on which Loyva — sounding like an astronaut gazing from a space station into the blackness — plaintively asks “are we alone?”
If “Undock” is Kellarissa’s single most impressive achievement here, it only narrowly wrestles that title from a significant number of other entrancing songs. “Passages” has much more to offer than just that opening synth figure, as it climbs inexorably to a dizzying climax on which layers of Loyva’s voice assaults from all sides, tripping over and intertwining with each other. At the other end of the track listing, “Old Money” might be the closest thing here to conventional pop, but while its loping synth and straightforward rhythm are easy enough to grasp, the elegant manipulation on the vocals keeps us intrigued. “You don’t own me”, Loyva protests, “You don’t know me”. Starkly separate from the spacey material, “Blood + Sand” is the record’s most aggressively sinister number, and cannot help but bring to mind the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Moon of Neptune‘s finest moments are kept apart, however, as a quirk of track listing makes much of the record’s first half drag noticeably. The songs “Sisu”, “Satellites Are Spinning” and “Niagra” are the weakest on the album but their negative impact is sadly enhanced by the fact that they appear consecutively. “Sisu” and “Niagra” are more ambient pieces, stretched out far beyond their welcome to around six and seven minutes respectively and weighed down by seemingly endless repetition which stacks up badly against Kellarissa’s more consistent work. “Satellites Are Spinning”, by contrast, feels like tawdry filler — even at a fraction over two minutes, Loyva’s hollow if presumably ironic platitudes over an ominous B-move soundtrack still feel like a trial.
Whether or not “witch house” is really a real genre — and regardless, it has been already applied to Kellarissa — there is without doubt something profoundly but entertainingly haunting about Moon of Neptune. Woman and machine are both at work here, and somehow they sound simultaneously at war and in harmony. When the result is harnessed to its full potential, as on the most bewitching songs offered here, the result demands attention and richly deserves it; when Loyva’s mind wanders, we are left frustrated that the album is not more consistent. For those looking for unsettling, glacial electro, this inconsistency is worth overlooking to appreciate the better part of Kellarissa’s fascinating cyborg world.