Valeda-Unearth: Album Review

I’m insanely late on this but I heard an interview with this artist on my beloved CKUT and I’ve been listening to the project quite a bit for a couple weeks.

Valeda is a solo electronic artist who is a part of susy.technology, a Montreal-based collective who—not unlike the great Kohlenstoff crew—are interested in multi-disciplinary artistic endeavors.  Their website specifies the “creation of audio-visual art engaging with the futurity of interactive media, cyberculture and augmented reality.”

Although Valeda is yet to release a music video, her music lends itself to immersive audio-visual experiments and her position in the collective is sure to lead to some great live experiences in the coming years.  On Unearth, she keeps her lyrics and sounds abstract and sparse, but also manages to offer an intimate, moving experience.

The album opens with cacophonous drones that remain constant as melodic sounds both gentle and violent grace the ear drums and frame Valeda’s quiet voice—the only source of brightness in the rather dark musical experience.  On the eight-minute opening track, for instance, pointed samples that sound like plucked strings are the first real “moment” before quick hits of ridged, high-pitched electronics and subdued quarter notes.

The world is bleak but active leading into the real entrance of Valeda’s voice around the half-way point.  Much less erratic, but sort of in the same melodic shape, her vocals model the high-pitched electronics of the beginning of the tune with quick ideas that eventually turn to full-fledged lyrical phrases: “never forget you.”  Her songwriting doesn’t lend itself to sing-able hooks and verses, however, the album is ridiculously enveloping and the excruciatingly gradual path to full lyrical ideas keeps you focused on every detail.

Perhaps the most impactful example of this lyrical strategy comes in the final tune, “Convent/Peril.”  Only four minutes long, the song mostly distorts its words with a mix of pitched-down, conflicting vocals, sound effects, and textural devices, before Valeda finally stands in the clear with the cutting line “my skin remembers what you can’t” around three minutes in.

The whole project has this tumultuous nature that alludes to trauma with the underlying sonic violence, but here is the most obvious allusion to past traumatic experiences and it really brings the work full circle.  Also, the use of the pitched-down vocals in the beginning of the song almost sounds like another person’s voice, invading in Valeda’s space so to speak.  Whether or not this exact interpretation was intended, the work offers a lot of room for multiple interpretations by keeping its themes cloudy, but also articulating specific bits and pieces.

Valeda’s middle two tracks are also great and the impeccable manipulation of space on each song carries over to the overall flow of the project.  “Under Ice” sort of reverses the approach to vocals in the first track by uttering the main lyrical idea first and continuously reinterpreting it throughout the track. It’s also the most rhythmically concise song, expanding on the rhythmic momentum of the first track with a stagnant beat from beginning to end.

“Losteling” is certainly the loudest song on the work, mostly by virtue of a single melodic strand of crackling sound that continuously inches up and down.  From the first track’s subdued beat to the more forward beat of the second, the third’s blasting melodic idea is quite logical and the brooding backdrop of the track helps along the seamless transition to pure force.

Unearth is emotionally moving and showcases a great deal of contrasting talents from Valeda without any real misfires.  I hope to hear more extensive, ambitious projects in the future, but 23 great minutes is a promising start.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

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