Merlin Nova is an esoteric one off. We’ve been eagerly anticipating her debut album ‘BOO!’ ever since we saw her beguile and fascinate an audience at London venue Folklore, supporting Serafina Steer. The set involved incredible droney synth pop and noise bursts, backing Nova’s extraordinary vocals. This was all combined with often hilarious surrealist skits.
We’d not seen anyone quite like her before (or since)!
So, how does ‘Boo!’ compare to the live experience?
Well, from the off it’s surreal! The title track, a simple “Boo!” followed by an elongated and glitchy scream.
This is followed by the frantic and creepy a cappella opening of “Lull Before Slumber”. It’s crazed heavy breathing and witchy high pitched tune backed only by a low thunderous drone, which carries into the second part. The piece becomes moody, cavernous and haunting. There’s a touch of Scott Walker’s ‘The Drift’ at play here. The unsettling opening returns with gusto before descending into almost white noise. The contrast between these parts is startling and invigorating.
“Fleshy Fodder (Warning Bells)” is no less strange but a thankful relief to the extreme opening chaos. Nova’s voice is effected with bizarre pitch shifts and delay while drones, alarm bells and sirens build before it launches into an infectious groove. This all culminates in a fascinating outro, with Nova creating her own choir, syncopating the phrase “Ding Dong”.
The Dalek monotone of “Human Being Computer” is a staccato vocal piece, that is kind of what it says on the tin. Backed by glitchy electronic percussion.
Nova returns to a slower woozier approach on the drawn out “Set In Stone”. The vocal gymnastics are eventually joined by a bassline groove and beats that sound like a malfunctioning machine.
So far, so weird!
We’re given a slight breather (at least at first) at the half-way point in the form of “spoilt”. It’s a hymnal collection of ‘oohs’ that are suddenly interrupted by a piercing, high pitched and intense additional vocal. Just when you think you are in your comfort zone with Nova, she throws in a monumental curve ball.
“Peek-a-boo” again gives the false sense of calm before a groove that seems to be made up of a distorted breathy vocal. Nova’s vocal becomes devilish (think the possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist).
Next up is “Boooooo”, which sounds akin to a deranged version of the Beach Boys “Our Prayer”. These warped harmonies set up the sporadic attack of… well… “Sporadic Attack”. A sparse and spontaneous drum piece.
Nova sometimes shows a similarly unhinged creative approach to that of Bjork.
This is in evidence on the maniacal “brain fart”, marrying a heavy one note rumbling bass line with intense vocoded vocals. There are, of course, relative moments of calm that further emphasise the chaos when things get extreme.
The warped textures of and Scott Walker-esque haunted vocal of “Boo Hoo” follows. It’s full of weird nautical bubbles, harsh crunches and atonal synths that create a disorientating and other worldly atmosphere. Nova’s glass shattering falsetto is incredible and sets up a powerful contrast to the simple spoken word palindrome “Hey-yeH”. Once again Nova’s instincts take her towards a powerful conclusion with the track building to an aural epiphany. Nova delights in a cathartic full throated “Yeh Yeah!”
There’s time for one more spectacular abstract vocal display on bonus track “A Joyful Heart”. It truly shimmers and explodes with life. It’s probably the most beautifully composed piece on the album.
With “Boo!” Merlin Nova has produced a remarkably creative, at times exhausting (deliberately so), and ultimately joyful debut album. A work that constantly demands attention through its powerful compositional twists, spectacular production and one hell of a set of lungs. “Boo!” is as stunning and unique as her delightful live show.
You may enjoy this if you like: Scott Walker, Bjork