Release Date: Feb 4, 2014
Record label: Bella Union
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
On Snowbird's full-length debut, Moon, singer Stephanie Dosen is in the company of members of the Cocteau Twins, Radiohead, and Midlake, yet her voice is unquestionably the album's focal point. She's blessed with a remarkably pure soprano that, not coincidentally, bears more than a passing resemblance to Simon Raymonde's former Cocteau Twins bandmate Elizabeth Fraser, especially when her vocals are wreathed around each other as on "I Heard the Owl Call My Name" and "Amelia." But where Fraser's vocals are almost inhumanly gorgeous, Dosen's are more down to earth, and Snowbird makes the most of that. Moon's instrumentation is dominated by piano -- Raymonde wrote most of the music on one that he purchased after Dosen left the U.K.
If there is one musician who knows anything about the power of an astounding voice then it is Bella Union founder and ex-Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde. In fact, hearing the voice of Wisconsin singer Stephanie Dosen inspired Raymonde so much that he felt compelled to work with her, first by producing her Bella Union 2007 debut and then reinvigorating his dormant recording career by forming a new group with her, his first since Cocteau Twins. Snowbird is a musical relationship between Dosen and Raymonde.
Just prior to Cocteau Twins' dissolution in 1997, band members Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde set up their own record label, Bella Union, primarily with the intention of releasing their own material via the outlet. After the demise of the band, the pair began signing other artists to the label and Raymonde - now alone - continues to run proceedings to this day. The multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist Raymonde is also involved in production and mixing responsibilities, and it wasn’t until he picked up an old baby grand piano free of charge from an advertisement that he started writing his own music again.
Ever wondered what being trapped inside a dream might sound like? Simon Raymonde and Stephanie Dosen - aka Snowbird - may have pondered such otherworldly posers if Moon is anything to go by. Their first complete batch of songs - despite initially collaborating seven years ago - the duo comprise former Cocteau Twins multi-instrumentalist Raymonde and American chanteuse Dosen, whose vocals have graced The Chemical Brothers on record and Massive Attack's live show in the past. However, it was Dosen's 2002 debut Ghosts, Mice & Vagabonds that brought her to the attention of Raymonde, and having signed her to his Bella Union imprint four years later, released the long-awaited follow-up A Lily for the Spectre to widespread critical acclaim in 2007.
Seen one way, Snowbird’s debut album moon is the return to music for Simon Raymonde, former Cocteau Twins member and founder/head of the Bella Union label, not far now from its 20th anniversary. Raymonde’s last full work was his Blame Someone Else record back in 1997, a pleasant if not deathless effort featuring his own soft, sighed singing. But given his participation not only with the Cocteaus for most of their existence but also This Mortal Coil, it wouldn’t’ve been surprising if he had something more to offer down the road.
The creative union of former Cocteau Twin and current Bella Union label boss Simon Raymonde and Wisconsin-born singer-songwriter Stephanie Dosen was always likely to give birth to something of beauty. In that respect, Moon fully lives up to its billing. Under the name Snowbird, the duo has crafted an intricate set of graceful songs that simply glide off Raymonde’s piano and Dosen’s tongue.
With that band name, Snowbird, and that album title, Moon, it’s no wonder that the duo’s songs feel cast in a pale, cool light. Vocalist Stephanie Dosen and former member of Cocteau Twins Simon Raymonde crafted these songs together, and the two players’ aesthetics mesh seamlessly. These wide open compositions—from the rippling echoes of “I Heard the Owl Call My Name” to the gentle stillness of “Where Foxes Hide” and so on—are open fields for Dosen’s voice to wander through.
Simon Raymonde made his name with atmospheric 80s/90s auteurs Cocteau Twins, before launching the Bella Union label, home to Fleet Foxes, John Grant… and breathy US singer-songwriter and sometime Chemical Brothers muse Stephanie Dosen, who has now teamed up with Raymonde as Snowbird. As one might expect, given their pedigree, their debut album is softly spoken, elegantly realised and at times mesmeric, never more so than on opener I Heard the Owl Call My Name. And yet for all its gracefulness it's curiously unengaging.