Don’t be put off by the title of Disco Lasers, folks! Ebony Buckle has produced one of the most beautiful, evocative and thoughtful debut albums I have come across by a female vocalist in any genre. Ebony has a truly wonderful voice and with the help of her talented husband and fellow musician Nick Burns she has crafted a heady mix of song-driven folk, classical, prog, ambient, alternative and pop music, celebrating the wonders of our Universe and how we as human beings make sense of our existence through folklore, legends, science, and our imaginations.
Ebony Buckle is a London-based singer/songwriter and conceptual artist, originally from Townsville on the coast of Australia, who first came to my attention as a folk singer/actor in a 2012 episode of Inspector George Gently, singing a captivating version of Joan Baez’s Silver Dagger. However, 10 years on, it has been a delight to catch up with her again as she has put together a collection of audio-visual stories from recent years into a fully-formed album full of light and shade.
Her soaring falsetto vocals, from powerful operatic performances through to delicate, soothing lullabies, would be reason enough to listen to the album. However, the creativity within the music and lyrics takes everything up a notch or two. Lonely whales, intergalactic travel, myths and legends and personal inner journeys – all accompanied by breath-taking videos – create a truly progressive, creative vision that only Kate Bush, to my mind, has ever been able to carry. She isn’t just a musician, she is a storyteller, exploring humanity’s wants, needs and struggles. Throughout it all, there is the hope that we connect, grow and evolve to see the beauty of our Universe.
The album opens with the simply stunning Wonder, where Ebony’s soaring and plaintive vocals take flight over a slow, atmospheric and minimalist organ and keyboard background. She takes the story of the 52 Hz whale, ‘the loneliest whale in the world’ with its unique and different call, and reimagines it as being a lonely inter-dimensional traveller, who has lost contact with their home planet. Ebony’s yearning “Hello?” is heart-wrenching, but the search for a connection and the call for companionship is mixed with the wonder of the beautiful worlds she beholds. It ends in melancholic, yet hopeful, fashion:
If you’re hearing me
I have made my last report now
and I’m going to explore further out.”
To me it reflects both our own personal life journey and even hints at our experience of the pandemic, as Ebony sings “… I survived” and “… everything’s alright” – although the song was written before that time. You are confronted with the question are you able to fully appreciate the wonders of life all around you if you are not able to share that wonder with others? The accompanying video is truly epic and thoughtful in its vision.
The Planet Who Believed maintains the galactic theme and considers the gas clouds that believe themselves to be stars, but are actually trapped, like planets such as Jupiter and Saturn, in orbits not of their own making. Ebony takes that idea and transposes it into our own lives. “I think so many of us find ourselves in a situation we thought we had understood, only to find out it is vastly different and very much out of our control.” Accompanied by sparse and delicate piano, acoustic guitar, vocals harmonies and subtle keyboards and effects, she delivers her vocals like a fable, rising and falling in pitch, with the music building and then fading into tapping electronica. Again, the lyrics have a deep resonance and funnily enough made me think of all the media stars and celebrities we see and how they often fall from grace unexpectedly:
being shiny and loud,
’til she realised she was
part of The Solar System.”
Who Remembers maintains the science-fiction link and considers a lone survivor of an alien invasion on another Earth. There is a darker, more pensive tone here, as she pleads for help: “Mother, Father help me now.” Starting with elegant piano patterns over an actual NASA sound recording of a storm on Jupiter, Ebony’s crystal clear vocals propel the track forward as the sound gradually builds in intensity. Laura Williams’ drums, together with a mix of guitar, keyboards and echoing harmonies, add an urgency to the atmosphere, before the sadness washes down into the sound of that Jupiter storm and then nothing else. The Stranger Things-style video is beautifully shot and even hints at some form of escape and redemption at the end.
Selkie is a lovely wistful song that reflects Ebony’s folk music roots. It tells the story of the impossible love between a mortal boy and a Selkie – a mythical sea sprit from Norse folklore. Once again, the instrumentation enhances Ebony’s siren-like voice and adds a progressive character to the traditional folk structure, with its repeating vocal lines. The dramatic, emotional and melancholic conclusion lasts long after that ethereal final note. The accompanying video, filmed on the Norfolk coast and an actual water tank, is wonderfully evocative. This is an artist in full control of both her audio and visual output.
Immortal continues in a similar vein with another story of an immortal falling in love with a mortal and referencing Greek and Roman mythology. However, this time it is Ebony, the winged goddess, who recounts her tale and tragically sees her mortal love torn away from her by the other gods.
It cannot happen now they said
It cannot be.
I took him in my arms
But I flew too high
And they tore at us ’til we were in pieces
Falling from the sky into the sea.
Oh, let him be Poseidon
For though I cannot swim
I would give my wings for him to be Poseidon.”
She wrote the song one morning after she had just dreamed she was a god. Once again, her exquisite vocals take flight over a dramatic musical background shaped by herself and Nick.
Wild Woman was inspired by a quote from the book Women Who Run With the Wolves by Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and Ebony wrote the song as a plea to her inner ‘wild woman’ to gain confidence and cherish and keep what makes her feel most like herself. It is a simple, personal, poetic and effective folk-orientated song.
Beautiful, multi-tracked vocals drive the deceptively simple You Took Your Time, Ebony’s soothing piano-led ode to those who have lost themselves due to emotional or physical burnout and the search to find oneself again. The vocals slide up and down the scales in a dreamy fashion with string-like accompaniment, through to the sound of static at the end. She questions if, as artists, our bodies are just tools for our creativity to use to spread the greater message of the Universe, much like the old, dusty computer in the video – awaiting our input.
Little Stars is an atmospheric lullaby which explores the shock of finding out something is wrong when you thought everything was fine. A Beatlesque piano introduces angelic lead and backing vocals and the track has a quiet dignity and sense of space, before a percussive beat picks up the tempo where needed. I heard even an echo of Coldplay’s Fix You here and there, and there is a contemplative serenity to the music and lyrics:
Or so we thought…”
The title track, Disco Lasers, was actually inspired by a New Scientist article about scientists thinking they might be able to send lasers into space to make spaceships go faster – thankfully well away from the dancefloor, proggers! The song encompasses the topics covered throughout the album – the connection between the undefinable human soul and indisputable scientific fact, and the fruits of our creativity that bring us closer to a brighter – or darker – future! More directly, Ebony opens up to the pressures of becoming a mother, sharing her own hopes and fears and that uncomfortable feeling many women experience: ‘Will I be good enough as a mother?’ Ebony sings with heartfelt conviction over a simple piano,
I won’t be brave enough to hold you near
I won’t be warm enough when it gets colder
And you look at me for answers
And I don’t feel older.”
But it is with the chorus that the song launches itself cinematically to great heights, and ultimately an inspiring and emotional finale:
To ﬁnd a better future for the human race
And there might be something
Hiding in the sands of Mars
And I hope that when you get here
You will see the stars like I do
Like I do
Like I do
I hope you’ll love the stars like I do.”
The truly moving video captures the whole experience beautifully and reunites us with our lonely whale and traveller out there in space from the video from Wonder.
Thank You, Goodbye has the unenviable task of following that, but does an admirable job – saying thank you and goodbye to the part of our psyche that tries to protect us, to keep us safe, sometimes stopping us from taking risks. Ebony is saying that risk-taking is part of the creative process, so that part of her herself must go.
The final track, We Can Wear Sequins and Glow in the Dark, was originally used as the trailer to the album to introduce its audio-visual aspect. It’s an invitation to let go and leave everything behind and step into this other universe with Ebony. The minimalist musical wash and other-worldly voice provides an unexpected and ethereal coda and invites you to start the album from the beginning again.
With Disco Lasers, Ebony Buckle has created a holistic tour-de-force to showcase both her heavenly voice and her creative and artistic vision that crosses many musical genres but remains truly progressive in its outlook. Like the very best albums, the more deeply and repeatedly you listen, the more rewarding you will find the experience – and watching the videos enhances the experience fully. Highly recommended indeed!
Post Script: At present Ebony is supporting, and singing harmonies, for the wonderful Solstice<, with Andy Glass stating to me that “She is the most incredible, positive, creative person to be around and an absolute privilege to work with.” As well as Ebony and Nick having their own gigs in the months to come, they will be doing a special performance on 17th November at The Love Shack on Cambridge Heath Road, London, with the album’s music played live to accompany all the videos. If you can’t make that event, then Bandcamp and her own Patreon community (with her monthly ‘Letters From A Strange Planet’ newsletter) are well worth a visit to acquaint yourself with this wonderfully talented artist.
01. Wonder (4:38)
02. The Planet Who Believed (3:29)
03. Who Remembers (4:49)
04. Selkie (3:58)
05. Immortal (4:24)
06. Wild Woman (3:30)
07. You Took Your Time (3:07)
08. Little Stars (4:28)
09. Disco Lasers (4:42)
10. Thank You, Goodbye (3:21)
11. We Can Wear Sequins and Glow in the Dark (3:31)
Total Time – 43:57
Ebony Buckle – Lead & Backing Vocals, Instrumentation
Nick Burns – Backing Vocals, Instrumentation
Laura Williams – Drums (track 3)
Record Label: Independent (CD, Digital)
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 21st November 2021 (Vinyl due for release in August 2022)