Review – Disillusioned by Marina Semkina

Haunting new EP from an exceptional talent

*****

Mariana Semkina, the vocalist from iamthemorning (her duo with pianist Gleb Kolyadin) released her debut solo album Sleepwalking last year. Previously based in St Petersburg, she now lives in England but unlike many artists she felt unable to take advantage of Covid restrictions to write new material, ‘I flew to Russia for a week and got stuck there when borders shut for half a year due to lockdown’. She describes how the depression she suffered as a result of feeling trapped only lifted on her return to England, where she was able to start writing again. The result is her new solo EP, Disillusioned, with three new songs and two traditional folk songs from Hungary and Iceland.

The opening track Friend has a sound world that is a departure from Mariana’s previous work. It begins with disturbing electronic drones and frenetic strings, with phased drums that contrast with the fragile vocals. The evocative video suggests that the protagonist of the song has lost her ‘only friend’. She drags her friend’s body through the woods, and when the music suddenly drops out there is an ethereal, distant wordless melody as she starts to bury him. A chillingly melodramatic and profoundly beautiful start to the EP, thematically it continues Mariana’s preoccupation with death, describing herself on Twitter as a ‘dead Victorian girl’.

Ne Hagyj Itt is the first of two tracks on the EP which reflect Mariana’s love of different languages and cultures. She says, ‘There is a Czech proverb that says “learn a new language and get a new soul”, and I certainly feel this way’. The song was written by the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók and published in 1935 as part of his 27 Two and Three Part Choruses based on traditional Hungarian folk songs. The title means ‘Don’t leave me here’, and the words describe the protagonist’s plea to the addressee to reveal the road she is taking so that he can plough it with a golden plough, sow the land with pearls and water it with tears. Mariana’s gorgeous, yearning multi-tracked vocals and beautiful harmonies sit on a bed of subtle electronics.

The title song Disillusioned refers partly to Mariana’s disillusionment with the music industry which has led her to release this EP herself via the bandcamp website. She says ‘having full control over your creations is quite precious and beautiful’. The song is superbly arranged, with warm strings and a gentle electronic wash bringing a bittersweet quality to Mariana’s subtle but heartfelt anguish.

Land Míns Föður is the second song on the EP to feature another language and culture. As Mariana says, ‘each language is special and works differently and beautifully with music’. This Icelandic folk song is a patriotic and imaginative celebration of the land of the poet’s father. The melancholy yearning of the song is captured in the multi-tracked vocals, drenched in echo. At only 90 seconds long, this is a little gem.

With a bass line that provides a gently-beating heart An End provides an uplifting end to the EP, moving from introspection to an epic chorus. The song concludes with an unresolved chord that fades into nothingness, perhaps casting doubt on the hope that it had raised. Throughout the EP, Mariana’s songwriter and abilities as an arranger show an even greater depth of maturity than on previous releases. Her voice continues to develop and grow, ranging from crystalline beauty to a more robust tone when required. The addition of electronics makes the sound world even richer and more evocative than before, creating a haunting listen from an exceptional talent.

Personnel

Marjana Semkina – vocals, backing vocals, lyrics

Vlad Avy – guitar
Grigoriy Losenkov – piano, keyboards, bass guitar
Svetlana Shumkova – drums, percussion

String Quartet:
1st Violin Semen Promoe
2nd Violin Marina Ryabova
Viola Alexander Shtabkin
Cello Anatoli Vorontsov

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