In 2011 Ana Silvera composed her piece Oracles in response to losing her mother and brother in quick succession. Playing it to sell out shows with Imogen Heap, she went into the studio in 2015 with Bill Laurance (Snarky Puppy), Jasper Høiby (Phronesis) and a number of musicians to lay it down. Finally released through Gearbox this is a truly soul stirring affair.
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Written in grief after the successive deaths of her mother and brother, Silvera’s ‘Oracles’ is a grandiose cycle of pop music that speaks to living on without the ones you love. Like recent work from Mount Eerie and Sufjan Stevens, it is a record that considers death in the only way we can truly know it -- through having to keep going when a loved one has succumbed to it.
Silvera’s songs mourn in moments and movements. Her compositions drift, simply going through life as backdrop, but also find meaning in occasion, the sparse arrangements giving way to scenes and ceremonies. The record’s opening symphony of piano, string swell and choir creates dramatic ripples and then diminishes them, the track meandering in scene changes, occasionally even feeling like a scene-less emotional meditation. Her mantras -- “If I grow rich or fade tomorrow / It won’t bring him back” -- exist on the edges, with the kind of clarity a late Björk song does. They cut through the endless, listless patter of music for one instant.
As Silvera’s record goes on, she opens herself up to different kinds of song: folk music takes over where a classical influence seemed to be a centering force, the gorgeous piano work and propulsive percussion of “Skeleton Song” recalling the barren winter songs of Tori Amos. “When the Heart is a Lonely Hunter” is a minimalist pop song working off of a canny rhythm section and growing another personal panorama as the instrumental fills in.
Really, though, it’s Silvera’s vocal performance that dominates: she sounds in control but close to the surface of her emotions, delivering phenomenal and dynamic performances like the one in “I Grew Up In a Room” -- here, she trembles through a stream of consciousness memoir before raising the octave for a melodic and theatrical centerpiece. It speaks to the record's undeniable tension, its position as meticulous composition and visceral catharsis.
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