I’m not sure what I was expecting from Mariana Semkina’s first solo outing, but it wasn’t the opening track of Sleepwalking. Dark Matter treads the same neo-classical approach of iamthemorning, though Gleb’s piano is noticeably absent, of course. It’s an incredibly beautiful opening number, even if it is unexpectedly similar to iamthemorning.
Am I Sleeping gives me the difference that I guess I was seeking. Until Mariana starts singing, this sounds more like Anathema than iamthemorning. In fact, even when she sings, that comparison can still be made to a certain extent. Though they have very different voices, both Mariana Semkina and Lee Douglas have a quite beautiful, understated and haunting singing style. This is an amazingly gorgeous song.
Turn Back Time begins with a crescendo of sound that again is reminiscent of Anathema, although this doesn’t carry on throughout the song, as it did for Am I Sleeping. Craig Blundell’s drums are high in the mix, which gives the song a very different feel. In fact, everything is somewhat dialled up for this song. Mariana’s singing is uncharacteristically strong, and it’s amazing. The power of her voice was always apparent, but never really utilised. Indeed, were she to belt out her lyrics in iamthemorning it would just sound wrong. Here, it sounds very, very right.
Back to a more restrained and breathy vocal delivery for Ars Longa Vita Brevis, and a more acoustic affair instrumentally. Particularly with the strings, this again sounds more similar to iamthemorning. I like it, but I’d love it more if it didn’t remind me of iamthemorning. Which brings us to Invisible.
Invisible is the first truly different song on the album, and it’s also my favourite. I absolutely adore this song! If I’m going to continue to make comparisons with Kscope artists, then this one is Lunatic Soul. But to be honest, I’m stretching there, and being more than a little facetious. This song definitely stands in its own right and is, I hope, a sign of what Mariana (Marjana) Semkina sounds like so that in future I might be listening to an album and think that a song sounds like Mariana.
Invisible is followed by my next favourite song, Lost at Sea, which could so easily have sounded like iamthemorning, but doesn’t – and is all the better for it. If Ars Longa Vita Brevis sounded more unique, then this album would have had an incredibly amazing triptych. As it is though, I’m more than happy – because after two songs I absolutely love, everything that follows is still very good indeed.
Rather than a drop in quality, Skin is another favourite song, not top three, but still up there. I suspect after what I’ve said, some might think this is somewhat hypocritical, as Skin does have similarities to iamthemorning – but I find it sufficiently different that I definitely would never mistake it for an iamthemorning song. At least, not in this incarnation anyway. (There are several songs which I can imagine would translate well to an iamthemorning setting, and I admire Mariana for taking them somewhere different, even if it is only a little different at times.)
Coming in just behind Invisible and Lost at Sea in my personal favourites is How To Be Alone. The first time I listened to the album, I wondered if I were just getting more into it as it progressed. The reason being that the second half of the album just seemed so much more interesting and enjoyable. However, I’ve listened to the album many times now and in many ways. I’ve shuffled it completely. I’ve listened to the first half of it last, but no matter how I listen, the second half is the more compelling for me.
The sequencing of the album is quite beautiful, though. It builds, it peaks, and then it subsides. The final three tracks are each quieter than the preceding, culminating in the truly beautiful simplicity of Still Life, the sole song on the album to feature only piano and vocals. You’d think this would make it sound similar to iamthemorning, but it is actually very different, and I don’t think anyone would mistake the two. It seems my favourite Jordan Rudess moments tend to be away from Dream Theater!
Overall, I really like this album, but I feel it comes across more as a transitional album than a fully-fledged solo album. A stepping stone, if you will. Mariana mentions on her Bandcamp page that she never thought she’d muster up the courage to make a solo album. Well she has, and it’s damn good. There is still a lot of iamthemorning in a lot of the music – which is not at all a bad thing – but this album has its best moments when Mariana is taking things in a different direction. I love iamthemorning, but I guess I just want to hear something different from that band when I listen to Mariana’s solo album. And when I do, it is amazing. Sleepwalking is a wonderful beginning for Mariana’s solo career. More, please!
01. Dark Matter (3:15)
02. Am I Sleeping (4:27)
03. Turn Back Time (4:08)
04. Ars Longa Vita Brevis (3:02)
05. Invisible (3:09)
06. Lost at Sea (5:02)
07. Skin (4:56)
08. How to Be Alone (2:53)
09. Everything Burns (3:18)
10. Mermaid Song (4:35)
11. Still Life (4:09)
Total Time – 42:54
Mariana Semkina – Vocals, Backing Vocals, Lyrics
Vlad Avy – Guitar
Grigoriy Losenkov – Piano (tracks 1,4,7,8 & 10), Keyboards (tracks 2 & 5), Bass Guitar (tracks 8 & 9)
Svetlana Shumkova – Drums (tracks 8 & 9)
Craig Blundell – Drums (tracks 3 & 7)
Nick Beggs – Bass Guitar (tracks 3 & 7)
Jordan Rudess – Piano (track 11)
Strings Ensemble – St. Petersburg Orchestra
Record Label: Kscope
Country of Origin: Russia
Date of Release: 14th February 2020