Sofia Says opens hokey, with track 'Like Warehouse'. There's a synth tone, highest in the mix, reminiscent of Delia Derbyshire's work for the BBC. Mario Kassar's Terminator soundtrack comes to mind too. It's diabolic and goofy all at once. But within the space of a couple of minutes, it's swamped in abstraction. Fuzz and chaos intrude like radio interference.
It's disorientating -- and as a listener you feel wrongfooted. Gaël Segalen spends the rest of the album giving you this feeling again and again. The changing styles of Sofia Says are restless and eclectic. One second, a chorus of birds is manipulated into a cruel, laughing crowd. Hackings of phlegm seem to punctuate the laughter. The next second, melody emerges from its burrow and the laughter evaporates.
Even at its most transcendental, the music of Sofia Says is dark and ominous. 'Mountain East' begins as what sounds like a discordant video game. The horror of the unseen is invoked; gruesome faces obscured behind 8-bit graphics. A sweet-but-spooky drone provides a texture for this to sit on. It's later supplanted by a beautiful vocal line — but trenchant fear lingers. And the track ends with long, empty silence to fill with anxieties.
The vocals carry through into 'Mountain West', a companion piece to 'East'. They have a devotional quality which, fittingly, produces imagery of height, levitation, floating; the peak of a mountain. And we then descend once again into scraping, chaotic minimalism.
Things get even more disturbing in 'Cortege', whose concrète elements sound like a torture chamber. Metal scrapes over metal in interrupted gasps of what sounds like pain. Surfaces smack and slip. It's the LP's most impermeable piece, and a marks a disturbing high point.
'I'll See You Again', the album's closer, is by contrast very delicate. It's all set around a fragile, wavering drone. An almost angelic noise section draws you in, before tensile cable percussion punches through. A plodding inevitability brings doomy flavour to this track. The gentle drone becomes what sounds like an angry, possessed tremolo violin. Ideas become defined and then decelerate to a stop.
This is an inventive, alien-sounding album. It is in a constant state of flux and reinvention, never settling or assembling; never becoming uninteresting. A tense and exciting listen.
Words by Andrew O’Keefe