Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cliffie Swan's Sophia Knapp Delivers Into The Waves: A Review Of The Solo Debut Album

Following on from last year's excellent release from Cliffie Swan, band frontwoman Sophia Knapp now brings us the beautiful and melodic Into The Waves, out 28 February on Drag City.

An exquisite and melodic near-masterpiece, Into The Waves (2012) deserves to reach a wide, wide audience.

I think a lot of people are going to latch onto the easy Stevie Nicks comparison but, for me at least, the record sounds a lot like Olivia Newton-John fronting an alt-rock band. With a hint of Cherie Currie's solo stuff in the mix as well, the record delights and charms over the course of its 10 cuts.

"Glasses High" has a persistent piano line and an almost country-ish vibe to the melody, while "The Right Place" is like some weird mix of Rita Coolidge and Alison Goldfrapp; somehow the sound of that sort of sleek post-rock works here when mixed with the elements of Top 40 radio from the 1970s.

A singer-songwriter is a singer-songwriter, no matter what era she's in, eh?

The title cut is like the best Olivia Newton-John single never released. Wildly catchy, with a nice Fleetwood Mac-styled percussive track underneath the melody, it's a soaring and soothing track that feels at once both familiar and unique.

"Spiderweb" and "Looking Into Another Day" are gentle near-ballads, the sort of things 4AD records would have thrived with in the 1980s. The production elements are nice here as well.

"Close To Me" is another throbbing Fleetwood Mac mid-tempo rocker. "Evermore" and "Weeping Willow" and early single "Nothing To Lose" feel like worthy descendants of a less indulgent Stevie Nicks. There's the idea of mixing the very British Sandy Denny with the styles of American album rock from the 1970s that works well.

The addition of Smog's Bill Callahan on two cuts adds another element to the mix. Less Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks than Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra -- or maybe Nick Cave and Anita Lane? -- the cuts work as a nice, darker contrast to the lighter, and nearly ethereal, feel of the rest of Into The Waves.

Album closer "In Paper" is just magnificent. Some weird mix of Blonde Redhead -- only more direct -- and Goldfrapp -- but more organic -- the song is an American-style take on what Kate Bush was doing on her first few records. Honestly, "In Paper" is the cut that I've played over and over from this record.

With a keyboard line reminscient of early Broadcast, the song is nearly trippy in that sort of Stereolab-ish way -- there's certainly a retro-futurist vibe here -- but it's a lovely ballad and a hint of the poetic power of Sophia Knapp.

Into The Waves is a gem of a record. I'm posting this review a bit early -- the album comes out on Drag City on 28 February -- in the hopes of starting a sort of drum-beat of praise for this album.

This is a wonderfully odd record in that it's both old fashioned with its nods to the 1970s and other eras, but it's also uniquely forward-looking. This is a new sort of sound.

If it's alt-rock, so be it. How else to describe this sort of thing? Any other label would be an insult and a reduction of the many, many delights of Into The Waves (2012).

So what if Into The Waves (2012) doesn't fit into some easy category? Just buy it on 28 February and be delighted by its varied and unique charms.

I can think of very few albums likely to be this lovely in 2012.

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