From the first notes of Maud the Moth’s album, Orphné, I’m reminded of a mix of Mariana Semkina’s debut solo album from earlier this year, and Tori Amos from many years earlier. It’s a timeless and ageless mix of beauty and melancholy. The music is full of intensity, colour and detail. One of the Bandcamp tags given for the album is ‘Baroque’, but I would argue that Pre-Raphaelite might be more appropriate. The music does not have the grandiose ornamentation that is implied by the term Baroque, and is far more similar to the Pre-Raphaelite tag that Semkina prefers to use. The Bandcamp page also offers the tag ‘Gothic’, which makes more sense – as both the Gothic and Pre-Raphaelite movements took inspiration from medieval art. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter, so I’m not sure why I’m dwelling on this. The music speaks for itself, and it is quite astounding.
Orphné is the third studio album from Spanish musician Amaya López-Carromero, now residing in Scotland, and after hearing this, I’m definitely keen to check out the previous releases. I love the way the album takes me through a range of emotions, throughout its length. Indeed, although the instrumentation is markedly different, I might also make comparisons with Hilary Wood’s album, Birthmarks (also released earlier this year). They both evoke a folky atmosphere that is beautiful and delicate, but which can be dark and disquieting. The music of both albums can at times be ominous and foreboding, while still retaining a surprising lightness and beauty. Both have the feeling of a spiritual journey being undertaken, at times raw and painful, and at others joyful and stirring.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to that opening number, Ecdysis – Wow! Definitely one of the highlights of the album, and what a way to begin. I’m not sure the album ever reaches these heights again, which would normally make me question if its placement at the beginning is such a good idea. And yet, it works. The crescendo and climax of Ecydsis are unrivalled on Orphné, and the remainder of the album is a glorious comedown, basking in the afterglow. Ecydsis is the moulting of an exoskeleton, allowing growth, but also creating vulnerability. The coda of the song definitely exudes that vulnerability, before segueing into The Mirror Door.
This second song is surely influenced by the book Through the Mirror Door, which tells the story of an orphan, Angela. Orphné, the album, draws upon the linguistic connection between the name of a mythical nymph from the Greek Underworld, and the word orphan. The Mirror Door is the perfect soundtrack to the midnight wanderings and flickering candlelight of Angela, and the door behind the mirror, which leads to the tiny bedroom of a dying boy. It’s eerie and claustrophobic, and yet full of hope. The Stairwell follows, and it’s even more haunting, and even more claustrophobic. Darker, too, as it feels more hopeless than hopeful. It’s thankfully short – not because I don’t like it, but because it is brutal in its threatening nature.
It perhaps comes as no surprise that The Stairwell leads us to The Abattoir, but despite the title this is another beautiful number. I imagine this is probably the final track on the first side of the vinyl. It certainly feels like a side ending track. Just as the following song, Finnisterrae, feels like another side opening track. The two sides of the vinyl (if I have guessed correctly that they are the two sides) have quite different feels, leaving me sometimes with the impression I’ve listened to two complementary EPs back to back. Finnisterrae is one of a couple of tracks on the album that reminds me a little of Myrkur – just to add another comparison into the mix. So, Tori Amos, Mariana Semkina, Hilary Woods, and Myrkur – got that? Finnisterrae is one of the sparsest sounding songs on the album, and it’s stunningly gorgeous.
As Above So Below is also quite sparse, yet noticeably darker. The following Mormo and the Well is jaunty and jazzy, and you might think less dark, but there is an edge to the song which is ever present, and ever menacing. It’s playful, but in a brutal, taunting way. The album ends with Epoxy Bonds, which begins with frantic strings before calming into a quite beautiful melody. This (along with the other side openers and closers) is one of the four most effective and affective songs on the album. By this, I do not mean to diminish the other tracks, as there is not a single one that I don’t thoroughly enjoy, but these four all take it up a level in terms of impact.
Orphné is not an album that will necessarily grab you on first listen, and it demands time and attention. But if you’re willing to fall down the rabbit hole, Lewis Carroll style, then you will certainly be rewarded with this at times creepy and oppressive, lush and beautiful musical odyssey.
01. Ecdysis (8:34)
02. The Mirror Door (5:27)
03. The Stairwell (1:34)
04. The Abattoir (6:17)
05. Finnisterrae (6:01)
06. As Above So Below (2:57)
07. Mormo and the Well (5:17)
08. Epoxy Bonds (4:00)
Total Time – 40:07
Amaya López-Carromero – Vocals, Piano, Celeste, Synths, Psaltery, Percussion
Paúl González – Drums
Guillaume Martin – Guitar
Alicia García – Violins
Iván Caramés – Cello
Record Label: Música Máxica
Country of Origin: Spain
Date of Release: 25th June 2020