Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Baroque Pop | Folk | Progressive Pop
I’ve covered plenty of solo records over the years, and one thing most of them have had in common is just how different they are from what you’d expect. Complete shifts in style from the work the artist is otherwise best known for, so much so that you wonder if they’re by the same person at all. It’s a chance to explore a whole other side of their personality and their musical passions.
On first listen I can say that Sleepwalking isn’t like that for the most part. Fans of her work as part of Iamthemorning will get exactly what they hoped for from Marjana Semkina’s first solo release (stylised here as Mariana). Her airy and angelic vocals are centre stage, the classically inspired arrangements are wonderfully elegant, and the lyrics are suitably bleak and beautiful, dealing with themes of isolation and detailing the sensation of drowning with rich oceanic imagery. In many ways it’s everything we’ve come to expect from her; after all if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Listen just a little closer however and you begin to take note of all the subtle differences, which all add up to making this record stand out.
The most striking change is in the lyrics. Iamthemorning has always had a penchant for the theatrical, sharing dark and twisted tales that could have come straight from the pages of Edgar Allan Poe’s collected works. Sleepwalking, while equally sombre and every bit as eloquent, is a far more personal affair. Rather than hiding behind allegory Marjana opens her heart to the world. She holds nothing back, sharing her innermost turmoil and pain and articulating it in a vivid and expressive way. Tracks like ‘Skin’ and ‘Everything Burns’ feature some of the most strikingly intimate and vulnerable lyricism I’ve heard in a long time, the kind you almost feel guilty for intruding upon and finding beauty within the pain.
There’s plenty of guilt-free beauty to be found in the music itself. While Iamthemorning’s unmistakable atmosphere is often dark, gothic and mournful to match the tone of the lyrics, Sleepwalking‘s arrangements are far warmer and more inviting. More like the first new life of spring than the bleak midwinter. The elegant sweeping string arrangements (and some great guest piano from Jordan Rudess, some of his best work in years) feel welcoming, comforting, and dare I say even uplifting.
The gorgeous musicality is certainly inviting, but lacks some of the more progressive elements fans will be used to. While this means individual tracks don’t feel quite so distinct and the album as a whole not as varied, it does feel a lot more open and accessible to new listeners. As such Sleepwalking should not be viewed as a companion piece for existing fans as most solo records are usually deemed, instead it serves as the perfect introduction into Marjana’s work. A taster of her sublime vocals, her erudite approach to songwriting and her unique musical vision.