Erika Angell 2024
Photo: Tim Georgeson / Constellation

Erika Angell’s New LP Makes You Appreciate Her Excellence

Experimentalist Erika Angell has a deep track record of producing intriguing music, but here, under her own name, it feels like she’s created her masterwork.

The Obsession With Her Voice
Erika Angell
8 March 2024

In The Obsession With Her Voice, Erika Angell successfully dances between echoes of jazz, free improvisation, opera, and dark blues without ever being trapped in a single mode; her muse is sufficiently light-footed that she avoids being sucked into any single, predictable genre; her songs evoking a range of forebears without ever being anything over than unique.

A declaration of clear intent, “Dress of Stillness”, takes its lyrics from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, the Austrian poet, from a volume called Poems From the Book of Hours – itself a reference to the medieval devotional volume containing prayers in honor of the Virgin Mary and intended to allow laypeople, women in particular, to share in the cycles of recital and reading which would govern monastic life. Angell clearly does not lack confidence, given that she makes this seven-minute-long offering the album opener and successfully gives it a heft worthy of its inspirations. Her vocals are warped into soporific purrs and jolting rolls of thunder over a constantly twisting blend of acoustic strings, synthesizer warble, and an expressive clatter of percussion.

From there, it’s impossible to lose attention as a listener due to The Obsession With Her Voice‘s careful balancing of more athletic vocal performances, seesawing to more moderately paced but no less spectacular poems. “German Singer”, for example, could, at first glance, seem even more imposing than the album opener. It’s a work of sprechgesang narrating a witnessed performance, initially over a simple piston of a beat but then ever more enlivened by glittering chaff and extreme glottal tremors apparently derived from cut-ups of Erika Angell’s voice. The tail of the song is an industrial eruption of warped signals driven into the unintelligible realm of machine chatter.

“One” is another piece of poetry initially at a gentle pace that, in lesser hands, could result in a lack of surprise, which Angell counters with her sense of the dramatic: an ever-rising pace and passion in delivery. “Sometimes I forget what I said as soon as I said it” becomes a breathless and tumultuous expulsion.

The instrumental layer matches the vocals in swaying this way and that, creating sustained magic as an element in its own right, not just an accompaniment. “Up My Sleeve” provides a contrast to “Dress of Stillness” by working over a flatbed of amp hum for two-and-a-half minutes until it’s joined by what sounds like someone hammering a screwdriver against a radiator, precursor to drums that erupt like firecrackers as Erika Angell’s voice sparks and catches fire in near-panicked yelps that soon become a multitracked flock of gull cries. Meanwhile, the aforementioned “One” is a duet with Mili Hong’s awesome drumming, which, even at its simplest, is continually growing and sprouting. Again, an entire album of vocal work over improv drumming might weary a listener, but the decision to instead provide this one showcase means that it could never occur.

There’s not a bad idea on the whole album, instead, a continuous movement of ideas or feelings cascade through the speakers, each one deployed for only so long as they remain vital, before being choked off as the album moves to the next fresh tributary in its seemingly endless deluge of inspiration. “Never Tried to Run” feels like a retort to Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” in its tip-tap separation of short syllables and fleet-footed movement across Angell’s vocal range with string stings accentuating, contesting, or completing lines. “Open Eyes”, by contrast, uses electronic effects that drive the voice away from humanity and into an uncanny valley of artifice, creating sustained highs that crest like ocean waves before erupting into spectacular white foam.

Significant space is given throughout for the music beyond words: the intro to “Let Your Hair Down” matches crooning to the deep ache of twin cellos, then returns to it over an intense shuffle of drums that remains at the same bass level. “Good and Bad” then moves entirely into the realm of the instrument-as-voice, a song that is all breathy expulsions, creaks, and brushes in a thicket of thorny depth until, eventually, a beat hits like silly putty tossed against a wall over the dry clicks of a motor turning over without ever igniting.

Erika Angell has a deep track record of producing intriguing music across numerous different bands and outlets, but here, under her own name, it feels like she’s created her masterwork. At a time when there are so many talented women with something to say across all genres or busy collapsing any remaining lines between them, The Obsession With Her Voice deserves to be rated among the finest.

RATING 9 / 10