Unpredictable, unstable, uncertain. These three u-words have been bubbling under every social interaction and e-mail correspondence I’ve engaged with during the coronavirus pandemic, threatening to erupt into boredom and repetition. At a time when everything seems precarious, its hard to feel anything other than shaky. Eartheater’s new album Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin, released on the interdisciplinary arts label PAN, has emerged from this chaos with fiery wings.
Experimental producer and multi-instrumentalist Alexandra Drewchin, the creative force behind Eartheater, has described Phoenix as a ‘path back to the primordial lava lake’ – a resurrection of lilting acoustic guitar, soaring orchestral compositions and Drewchi’s otherworldly voice. This is a far cry from the pulsating electronica of Trinity, released last year, or the unnerving vocal samples from 2018’s Irisiri. Eartheater bares her classically inspired roots in the lead single ‘Below the Clavicle’, flying from a microcosmic murmur to macrocosmic scream that transcends her three-octave vocal range, landing back in a pool of strings, harp and guitar.
Written and arranged entirely by Drewchin during a short residency in the arid region of Zaragoza, Spain, the lyrics and song titles of Phoenix are packed with enough geological metaphors to rival Bjork´s 2011 album Biophilia. In Volcano, Drewchin confesses her fixation on a grain of sand, ‘Diamond In The Bedrock’ sparkles with flashes of flamenco guitar, and Mercurial Nerve summons a choir of disembodied sighs and syllables. The opening song ‘Airborne Ashes’ seems to conjure the eponymous phoenix itself from an ominous bass introduction, unfurling into a minimalistic guitar melody, growing into a fully fledged palette of violins.
Eartheater’s vocal dexterity and fearless experimentation has hatched this defiantly panoramic, and timely, hybrid of an album – exhilarating bonfires combined with subtle, at times honestly raw, moments of stillness. Closing with the startling chimes of ‘Faith Consuming Hope’, Phoenix is a ritual that brings you back down to the earth, and then further underneath its volcanic surface.
Header image: Sam Clarke