Over the years, Ela Stiles has built a name for herself as an adept musician in Sydney's often strange and varied music scene. Moving beyond her work in local favourites Songs, she became a driving force in Melbourne outfit Bushwalking, releasing two records with the band while still based in Sydney and working on numerous projects. Now, Ela has taken another hairpin turn, revealing a solo record comprised entirely of a-cappella performances. It is her voice alone that fills the listener's ear, and then her voice again, rising and falling in different vocal patterns both rhythmic and melodic, turning in on itself and creating layers of startling sound.
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I've been putting off writing about this record for a good couple of days, all thanks to just two words on a post-it stuck to the front. "Entirely acapella" it says with ominous lack of judgement. While they are an emotionally brave move, I often find acapella albums awkwardly intimate and uncomfortably personal.
Thankfully Songs/Bushwalking warbler Ela Stiles has an interesting style here, mixing an Alasdair Roberts-ish plainsongy delivery with some subtle atmospherics which often employ processed vocal drones. There's even a wordless song which is in fact just called 'Untitled Drone', with angelic hums layered over one another to create strange psychoacoustics as if strings are mixed in with the voices. The more stripped back lyrical parts sound like they were recorded in a big reverby hall and are delivered loudly and confidently, which also helps alleviate the awkwardness, and the seven tracks are over well before boredom or irritation set in. This is much more meditative and likeable than I had feared.
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