Strata Florida: Falling from Grace
Strata Florida

If the name Strata Florida doesn't ring an immediate bell, perhaps Swallow might. Louise Trehy, who fronts Strata Florida with Peter Pavli (High Tide, Robert Calvert, Annette Peacock), secured a permanent place in shoegaze history when the UK outfit Swallow, of which she was one-half, mesmerized listeners with its 1992 debut album Blow; in all probability a great many of today's dreampop practitioners wore out multiple copies of that 4AD classic before heading up their own projects. Swallow's tenure was brief, however, as Trehy abandoned music and life in London for rural Wales following the band's 1994 demise.

But Falling from Grace isn't Trehy's return from the wilderness; that occurred in 2014 when the newly hatched Strata Florida issued its critically acclaimed Made of Stars on Saint Marie Records, and Swallow admirers found themselves bewitched once more by Trehy's breathy voice. In text accompanying the release, she indicates that she wanted to write songs that would lie outside her personal experience, a goal obviously fulfilled in one such as “Emily Bronte,” though invariably they all ended up being personal reflections on “love, loss, and time passing.”

As relevant as the lyrical content no doubt is to the songs, the listener will likely spend more time being swept away by the sonic design. Though it feels a little bit more lived-in, her vocal delivery hasn't altered dramatically since Blow, and the songs themselves generally retain dreampop's trademark density (experimenting with multi-tracking, she sometimes layered up to eight different vocal lines on the same song), even if they're in places more nakedly presented and minimize guitar distortion. The pairing of her vocals and rhythm guitar with Pavli's guitar, bass, synth, and percussion still adds up to a full sonic display (mandolin and cello also work their way into the mix), yet when heard alongside Blow and Cocteau Twins' albums like Treasure or Blue Bell Knoll, Falling from Grace sounds relatively stripped-down, its sound clearer and more direct.

“Caroline (SF mix)” effectively eases the listener into the concise, eight-song set with a gently swaying, quasi-bossa nova pulse leading the way and Trehy's voice ping-ponging across the tremolo-laden stereo field. Strata Florida's identity solidifies with the guitar-heavy pop of “Vital Signs” and full-on density of “Don't Give Up On Me,” whose simulated strings lend it a rather Sgt. Pepper-ish air. Don't be surprised if you're reminded of early New Order when a forceful bass line muscles its way to the forefront of “Emily Bronte,” all the better to power this midtempo paean to Wuthering Heights' creator, and don't be surprised either if you sometimes struggle to decipher the words when the vocal delivery is so breathy and the arrangements so rich in detail and atmosphere. Dreampop devotees should perhaps anticipate being seduced all over again.

December 2016