Release Date: Mar 12, 2013
Record label: Paper Bag Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Kootenays, BC native Rachel Zeffira has a long back-story that involves relocating to the UK, being deported, performing at the Vatican for the Pope and befriending the Horrors. But her tale shouldn't overshadow the fact that this classically trained soprano has accidentally become a remarkable producer and songwriter. Following the album she recorded with Horrors frontman Faris Badwan as Cat's Eyes in 2011, Zeffira has ventured out on her own and applied what she's learned to a solo album that elegantly combines her influences, new and old.
The Canadian soprano/multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira came to prominence last year as one half of Cat's Eyes, with Horrors frontman Faris Badwan. But whereas that project was heavily influenced by 60s girl groups, Zeffira's debut solo album finds her delving into her classical roots, with subtle orchestration backing frequently sublime baroque pop, notably on the piano-led title track and the hushed, haunting Waiting for Sylvia. Paradoxically, Here On In, which with its motorik rhythm sounds most like the Horrors, is the only weak link on a gorgeously immersive album.
It is winter. Just look at the signs: it’s cold. It’s dark. And there are a litany of expensive looking, stupendously sentimental adverts accompanied by breathy, drippy covers of old songs clogging up the TV. But, even if it wasn’t, even if you were baking on a sun lounger in the Cote d ….
Let’s get the formalities of Rachel Zeffira’s story out the way first shall we? You might already know that she is a classically trained opera singer and pianist who has crossed over into our sphere of “alternative” music largely as a result of her association with The Horrors’ front-man Faris Badwan. In 2011 the duo released a gorgeous and grossly under appreciated record under the moniker Cat’s Eyes. That project drew heavily from elements of ’60s girl group style but infused it with a haunting gothic undertone as Zeffira’s piano-led whispers often curdled their way into Badwan’s howls driven by flashes of undulating rhythm.
Classically trained soprano and multi-instrumentalist + Faris Badwan = good? I know, right? But it’s true. Back in 2011, Rachel Zeffira and the Horrors frontman formed the unlikely duo Cat’s Eyes, released an EP and a full-length album, and soon had critics cooing and purring at their musical offerings. Now Zeffira’s written, produced and played loads of instruments on her first solo album, The Deserters.
“A man can be judged by the company he keeps,” Greek poet Euripides once harrumphed. Take a butcher’s, then, at the gothic rapscallions Rachel Zeffira’s been hanging out with in London’s gloomiest hideouts. She’s knocked around with The Horrors’ Faris Badwan, rubbed shoulders with Toy, hobnobbed with SCUM. The classical music-inclined half of Cat’s Eyes has assembled an impressively stern-faced gang of mates.It figures, then, that ‘The Deserters’ gleams brightest when the London-based Canadian’s spookily sparse compositions are sticky with the traces of her pals, and she’s able to straddle the classical/gothic pop divide as a brooding chanteuse who comes on like the love-child of Nico and Nick Drake.
Horrors frontman Faris Badwan was the famous face behind Cat's Eyes' 2011 debut, but Rachel Zeffira's story has since proved more intriguing. A half-Irish, half-Italian classically trained opera singer with roots in rural Canada, Zeffira is perhaps the only living person who's both worked with visual vanguard Chris Cunningham and performed for Pope John Paul II. Shortly after Cat's Eyes was released, Zeffira went off on her own and put together a pair of solo tunes, including a cover of My Bloody Valentine's "To Here Knows When", that led to the eventual creation of her solo debut, The Deserters.
"Precise" seems like a weird word to apply to an album that casts such a sleepy, dreamlike spell, but make no mistake - the debut solo album from Canadian-born, London, UK-based Rachel Zeffira is a work of finely hewn subtleties. A classically trained soprano, Zeffira is best known as one-half of the pop duo Cat's Eyes with the Horrors frontman Faris Badwan. On this LP she largely dispenses with that project's washed-out shoegaze instrumentation, but not its echoey aesthetics.
When Rachel Zeffira and Horrors' frontman Faris Badwan – who also collaborate as Cat's Eyes – get better at running their record label, RAF, they'll realise that December is a terrible time to release an album of understated orchestral pop. Zeffira's solo debut came out just before Christmas, but is more suited to the bleak chill of January: it's subdued, reflective and delicate as a light fall of snow. Her training as a soprano is so carefully suppressed that her crystal tone and perfect pronunciation seem more influenced by Broadcast's Trish Keenan than opera; mostly she sings in a whisper that, on her lucid cover of My Bloody Valentine's To Here Knows When, is barely discernible.
Rachel Zeffira is perhaps the most unassuming-sounding classically-trained singer a pop enthusiast will hear this year. Her voice is weightless and ethereal, suggestive of someone who has spent years boning up on dream-pop rather than an artist who has performed at the Vatican, as Zeffira has on two separate occasions. Zeffira had her pop music coming-out with 2011’s Cat’s Eyes, a same-name collaboration between herself and the Horrors’ Faris Badwan (and which allowed Zeffira that second Vatican appearance).
A beautiful solo debut, unequivocally demanding of your attention. Daniel Ross 2012 Too late. The first articles about Rachel Zeffira have already been written and have branded her a classically-trained kook, the girl that's one half of Cat's Eyes with Faris Badwan from The Horrors and an entry in the NME's list of indie's sexiest women. She might be classically-trained, but to write off her compositional craft as mere whimsy is to totally ignore a true, rare brilliance.