Sophie Coran likes to describe her musical aesthetic as “Noir & B”, and it fits. Her melding of classic soul vibes and a darkly cinematic mystique make for a mesmerizing combination. Combining a series of singles released in the past couple of years – “I Could Be Your”, “Permission”, “Duller Star”, “Saltwater”, the latter which was premiered on PopMatters in 2019 – with newer, previously unheard tracks, S P A C E is a deep dive into a warm, intoxicating blend of seductive soul and tight musicianship.
Coran – who wrote all the tracks on this debut album – is joined by a small band consisting of Logan Roth (keyboards), Arjun Dube (drums), and Mike Morrongiello (bass). Her hometown’s influences creep in with some genuine Philly soul strings, arranged by Coran and adding just the right touch, never sounding overbearing or unnecessarily syrupy. Additionally, Roth’s keyboards don’t stop with the typical soul sounds of electric piano and organ – on songs like the funky “Roadblock”. He throws in a delightfully spacey synth solo that adds to the album’s mid-century “space” vibe.
Space (both “outer” and “personal”) and water are overarching themes on this quietly ambitious album. Other themes include how that exploration “mirrors our most personal life experiences, and these moments encourage the listener to navigate through cyclical relationships and the push-and-pull of self-love”. “Saltwater” does a wonderful job of conveying nostalgia through the crashing of waves on the beach and the music’s woozy grooves. “Saltwater takes me there some days I’m swimming,” Coran sings on the soaring chorus, “No matter the distance to sea if you’re swimming upstream.”
Coran and her band embrace the full album concept with well-crafted multi-part tracks and interludes – the opening “Intro” sets the mood with Coran’s soulful delivery (think Amy Winehouse with less idiosyncratic phrasing). “Old Space” is a gorgeous instrumental that showcases the cinematic string section. The low-key soul/funk feel of “Circles” is reprised two tracks later with “Circles II”, bringing back the original song’s theme with vocals and a muted piano. One gets the impression Coran is working out the song’s basic framework late at night in an abandoned night club.
One of the things that makes S P A C E work so well is that the overall mood of the album is bolstered by terrific songwriting. Coran and her band could easily coast on a jazzy vibe, but the compositions bring everything up several notches. “Delilah’s” seems to be an ode to one of Coran’s favorite late-night haunts, and wonderfully evocative lyrics accompany the song’s slow-burn. “We’ll go to Delilah’s / The girls are so pretty there,” Coran sings, “And under the blue light / Everything is alright.” In keeping with the conceptual themes of the album, “Delilah’s Interlude” offers a shimmering, ethereal reprise, not unlike a dream-sequence version of the song, complete with gauzy reverb and the sounds of a thunderstorm.
“Lost in a little slice of hell / Stuck inside your spell,” Coran sings in “Circles”. In a way, that couplet fits the album like a glove. S P A C E is a wonderfully intoxicating album, filled with traces of danger but wonderfully seductive and beautifully constructed.