Release Date: Aug 21, 2015
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Relative newcomer Briana Marela's latest album—the follow-up to her 2012 self-produced and self-released Speak from your Heart-has been a long time coming. The Seattle native launched a successful Kickstarter campaign in August of 2013 to support her recording the album in Reykjavík, Iceland. The result, nearly two years later, is a beautiful, melodic collection that at times recalls both Lykke Li and Sigur Rós.
Briana Marela's early releases depicted a breadth of creative songcraft with elements of indie electronic, experimental rock, and avant-garde chamber music, just at surface glance. All Around Us, her label debut via Jagjaguwar, finds her settling into an expressive ambient pop. Her pixie-like vocal quality is transmitted with a seemingly Björk-inspired delivery, an effect compounded by learning that the album was recorded in Reykjavik with producer Alex Somers, who's worked with Jónsi and Sóley, among others.
Having recently suggested in these pages that the fierce, bruising début by Pacific North West-based newcomers Strange Wilds could only have come from those parts, along comes an album, from a resident of Seattle no less, which at first glance could not be further removed from the city’s plaid-shirted musical past. All Around Us does reflect, however, the surroundings in which it was recorded, with Briana Marela having decamped to Reykjavík for the sessions. A former student of music production and technology, Marela’s previous release, 2012’s Speak From Your Heart, was for the most part made up of repeating patterns of her voice, harmonised and layered over simple instrumentation and fuzzy found-sound washes – a pleasant enough series of experiments to listen in on maybe, but a little lacking in coherence.
All Around Us gets its name from a children’s book. It's an appropriate inspiration given the plainspoken way Briana Marela talks about emotions. "It’s cool to care! Chill is boring," she recently tweeted, and she means it; she titled her 2012 album Speak from Your Heart. Marela recorded All Around Us, her first for Jagjaguwar, in Reykjavík with Sigur Rós producer Alex Somers.
In the first seconds of her debut album, Seattle’s Briana Marela immediately invokes Laurie Anderson’s best-known song. Anderson’s 1981 single “O Superman (For Massenet)” starts with an insistent loop of Anderson’s voice repeating a single, wordless syllable; “Follow It”, from All Around Us, does the same with Marela’s. But after that initial moment of echo, the two tracks diverge.
It’s been touted as such, but All Around Us really isn’t Seattle singer/songwriter Briana Marela’s debut album. Marela owns a pair of self-released LPs to her credit – 2012’s Speak From Your Heart and 2010’s Water Ocean Lake. While All Around Us is Marela’s label debut, at least a cursory perusal of her back catalogue offers a wealth of context for where she artistically is right now.
Seattle-based Briana Marela's debut album was produced by the Sigur Rós- and Jónsi-affiliated Alex Somers in Iceland. The influence of both Somers and the otherworldly Scandinavian landscape is clear: All Around Us's lush pop is often sweeping and grand, and has a sonic infiniteness even on shorter tunes. Marela's ethereal, wispy vocals and Somers's adept production give it its grandeur.