Chloe March “Starlings & Crows” Reviewed at Textura

“Chloë March has been variously described as an ambient-pop or electro-pop artist, but neither label truly satisfies. Yes, an ambient aspect is present in her atmospheric music, and, yes, she does use electronics to fashion her material, and, yes, there is a pop dimension in play when she favours concise, song-styled structures. Yet her intensely personalized sound helps make Starlings & Crows, March’s fifth album, transcend singular categorizing. One ultimately less listens to this intoxicating collection than luxuriates in it.

Operating out of her Warwickshire countryside home, the English artist crafts songs that might be better described as deeply aromatic mood pieces that derive their greatest distinguishing character from her unmistakable voice. Across eleven songs, March induces entrancement by coupling her free-floating, often multi-layered singing with instrumental backdrops that are pristine and keyboards-heavy. Her voice unfurls gracefully, with its vulnerable ache a stark counterpoint to the secure foundation of the instrumental design. An omnipresent tension emerges through that juxtaposition when the meticulous polish of the latter contrasts with the live-sounding spontaneity of the vocal performances.

As the thirty-eight-minute recording plays, the listener is pulled deeply into its world, the effect intensified by the subject matter associated with the project. As the John Tenniel-like illustrations adorning the sleeve (and the title of the closing track “Looking Glass Lawn”) suggest, March drew for inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass as well as the writings of nineteenth-century nature poet John Clare. Such literary references accentuate both the album’s connections to the transporting dreamworlds of fantasy fiction and the sense of wonder engagement with the natural world calls forth.

With a title alluding to the Apollo 11 mission, the opening song “Landing 1969” illustrates how critical her voice is to her music’s impact when multiple vocal lines elegantly intertwine across a shimmering bed of pulsations. Here and elsewhere, March favours slow tempos, a choice that strengthens the music’s dreamlike quality. Among the standouts is “Remember That Sky,” which alchemizes her voice and a lilting backing into a swooning, intensely emotive elegy for things lost and unrecoverable.

As much as singing is the primary focal point, arresting instrumental touches surface too. “Turn Fox Then,” for example, is animated by a deep bass pulse that in another context could pass for dub; in this song the element works in tandem with the synthetic textures and vocal to create a swaying mass that’s more than a little hypnotic. A similar state is induced during “High Hay” when strums by a harp-like instrument are part of the sound design. Piano moves to the instrumental forefront in “All Things Good,” whereas “To a Place” mixes things up by undergirding her singing with a waltz rhythm.

However tempting it might be to cite artists such as Elizabeth Fraser and Tracey Thorn as reference points when speaking of March, Starlings & Crows—not for the first time—shows she’s staked out her own artistic place. No one sounds quite like her, either vocally or musically.

Textura

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