Personnel: Briana Marela (vocals, musical instrument, electric guitar, space echo guitar, piano, harmonium, Mellotron, vibraphone, glockenspiel, gong); Alex Somers (musical instrument, electric guitar, space echo guitar, piano, harmonium, Mellotron, bass synthesizer, percussion, gong); Amiina (strings).
Audio Mixer: Alex Somers.
Recording information: Sundlaugin; The Unknown, Anacortes, WA.
Briana Marela's early releases depicted a breadth of creative songcraft with elements of indie electronic, experimental rock, and avant-garde chamber music, just at surface glance. All Around Us, her label debut via Jagjaguwar, finds her settling into an expressive ambient pop. Her pixie-like vocal quality is transmitted with a seemingly Björk-inspired delivery, an effect compounded by learning that the album was recorded in Reykjavik with producer Alex Somers, who's worked with Jónsi and Sóley, among others. The collaboration seems an inspired fit for the American Northwesterner, with a demonstrated artfulness and boldness of spirit that are also associated with those Icelandic artists. The resulting recording utilizes exaggerated layering, looping, delay, and reverb until the composite soundscape emerges as if from a cocoon and defines the album. This layering is exposed to a degree on "Everything Is New," which opens with a deep breath, then compiles vocal loops and effects as the song progresses until it becomes difficult to distinguish the many manipulated vocal tracks from synths or strings. The opener, "Follow It," serves as an ear adjuster of sorts, clearer and perkier than the rest, and introduces Marela's voice with an abrupt a cappella intro. Later, "Take Care of Me" offers the record's most radio-friendly tune, catchy with a smiling melody, bass, and mechanical beats. Alternately, "Dani" is an elegant, textured lament that employs repetition and that echoing reverb to achieve a woeful meditation ("She lost herself, she lost herself/She loves him still"). The swirling sounds and ethereal vocals come to an apex on the delay-saturated "I Don't Belong to You." If there's a gripe to be had about the sum product, it's that it all starts to blend together and become less distinct rather than more so. However, the sound is so immersive that those who are taken with the glitch-foggy atmosphere will likely gleefully indulge; those who aren't will struggle to find a way in. Regardless, All Around Us stands as a puckish, blustery, peculiar creation recommended for a good pair of headphones. ~ Marcy Donelson