SaffronKeira: A New Life
Denovali Records

A New Life presents its fair share of mysteries. For starters, the package's inner sleeve indicates that all of the release's thirteen tracks were written by Francesca Sanna; they're performed and produced, however, by Eugenio Caria, who established the SaffronKeira project in 2008 and hails from the island of Sardinia, Italy. So are Sanna and Caria one and the same? No further mention of Sanna appears on the package or accompanying documentation, whereas Caria's referenced repeatedly. One is also challenged in drawing clear connections between track titles like “Ethan,” “111208,” and “Endless Agony of Being Sick” and the music itself, even if such meanings are clear enough in Caria's own mind (whereas one might expect the tone of a track titled “Pregnancy” to be uplifting, it's instead rather macabre). A New Life is a huge release on content grounds (especially so for a debut album), with 138 minutes of material spread across two CDs (it's also available as two double twelve-inch vinyl sets that present its two halves, “Old Life” and “New Life,” separately).

The general style is spectral classical-ambient moodscaping with Caria adopting the roles of sound researcher, composer, and sculptor in his handling of the electroacoustic material. In tracks that range from eight to seventeen minutes, voice samples, electronics, and synthetic textures are interlaced with acoustic instrument sounds such as piano, organ, acoustic guitar, and vocals to form oft-eerie meditations. The tracks patiently develop into self-contained micro-universes that one could easily imagine functioning as soundtrack material. Some settings are beatless explorations, whereas others include rhythm elements as part of the overall design. “Symbiosi” stands out as an especially memorable example of the latter in suggesting the image of a space shuttle being battered by meteors as it cruises through the upper reaches. “Ethan” and “190305” likewise stand out, but perhaps primarily for how close they come to sounding like classic beat-based electronica.

There's ample evidence of Caria's talent for arresting sound design—the metallic waves hurtling through “Symbiosi,” the haunting female voice and strings wafting through “Endless Agony of Being Sick,” the 8-bit melodies burbling within hiss and grime during “8th Months,” the distorted voices rippling through “Psychologically Destroying,” and, in perhaps the album's most disturbed setting, the Liberace piano tinkling across the quicksand of “Acceptance of Mental Disorder,” to name five examples. Adding melancholy piano playing and strings to SaffronKeira's customary electronic design makes for an arresting combination in “Last Days,” while the soundscape Caria shapes and nurtures throughout the almost fourteen-minute flow of “111208” is nothing short of amazing. Here and elsewhere, he shapes the music so that it unfolds unpredictably yet in such a way that it follows an inexorable and natural logic. It's an epic release also in the sense that there's so much material and detail to absorb the listener is almost overwhelmed by the project, and one comes away from it wondering what SaffronKeira will do to follow up such a grandiose statement.

September 2012