Serafina Steer has become quite a shape shifter since her last solo album, 2013’s stunning ‘The Moths Are Real’. Starting to play more synthesizer and learning bass Steer formed the band Bas Jan which took her sounds into a whole other direction – more direct, simpler, with catchy pop hooks. So on this, her first solo album in six years, Steer has returned to the harp (in part).
The approach, though, is more understated and less orchestrated than on ‘The Moths Are Real’.
The most prevalent instrument here is the synthesizer, which lends itself to the generally more experimental edge apparent on this record, although somehow this all manages to feel incredibly intimate.Whatsmystone is an instrumental oscillating synth opener that builds droning chords, with timbres like beautiful feedback, for almost 6 minutes. There are fleeting tunes from various synth sounds and what at times sounds like a melodica decorating the piece. It’s unexpected and quite mesmerizing. You almost forget who you are listening to.
‘Provides Common Ground’ opens with a bleepy synth beat before introducing the harp and Steer’s soft, sophisticated and unmistakeable vocals. “Pressure, pressure, in life” the opening line almost feels like a comment on the anxiety about returning to the harp that followed her previous solo album.
The harp, slightly overdriven, provides a wonderful counterpoint to the synth bleeps and bloops.
The combination is dreamy. A subtle pop song and probably the most straightforward and recognisably Serafina Steer track on here. ‘Lapse’ throws another curve ball. It’s an intriguing abstract piece with scraping strings effected with cavernous delay. There are short harp and/or piano blasts that lend melodic form. Despite the instrumentation being acoustic it still fits in with the synth textures of the other tracks.
Lyrically this record is very interesting, there are less opinions stated and stories told. There is an acceptance of vulnerability. ‘Auto’ which begins with Steer clearing her throat, plays around the idea of the “self” and self-awareness. “I have diagnosed myself, I have pleasured myself, and when there’s no one else around to do it I have lied to myself”. The only backing instrument being a delayed harp only hammers home further that this is the first record in six years on which Steer’s signature instrument has featured, and this the first song where it is the sole accompaniment.
‘The Mind Is A Trap’ opens another door, and quite a surprising one.
Steer is practically rapping and, what’s more it works! Fluttering synths, strings, hard beats and a disco bass line accompany lyrics about learning to let go. This makes way for ‘Say What You See’, another gentle instrumental which marries twinkling synth with harp, an underlying drone, and, possibly a zither. It blurs the line between acoustic and electronic sounds.
‘Time To Recover’ is, again, solely harp backed. The harp loops around the same intricate dreamlike phrase, the vocals are effected with reverb uttering short phrases. In yet another twist, the final two tracks veer into dance territory. ‘Back On The Scene’ exhibits some very 90s sounds – particularly electronic choir synth voice. Interestingly it doesn’t seem out of place. Steer introduces techno beats on ‘This Is My Emotion’. A repeated synth phrase drifts in and out and drones wobble and detune.
It seems some of Steer’s remixing of other artists in recent years has come to the fore. All in all ‘The Mind Is A Trap’ feels like an amalgamation of every avenue Serafina Steer has explored since ‘The Moths Are Real”, almost remixing herself.
You may enjoy this if you like: Bas Jan, Mary Lattimore, Julia Holter, Bamboo