Rachel Zeffira - The Deserters

7.5/10

Let’s get the formalities of Rachel Zeffira’s story out the way first shall we? You might already know that she is a classically trained opera singer and pianist who has crossed over into our sphere of “alternative” music largely as a result of her association with The Horrors’ front-man Faris Badwan. In 2011 the duo released a gorgeous and grossly under appreciated record under the moniker Cat’s Eyes. That project drew heavily from elements of ’60s girl group style but infused it with a haunting gothic undertone as Zeffira’s piano-led whispers often curdled their way into Badwan’s howls driven by flashes of undulating rhythm. On her debut solo outing here things are generally more subdued as her classical impulses come to the fore. with most of the tracks built around her gentle piano strokes and elegant string arrangements, even when she does TOY with some restrained pop.

The simple lugubrious piano of ‘Silver City Days’ works well as a showcase for her considerable talents with her vocals warping delicately around the fluctuating tempo, and the melting strings of ‘Front Door’ sound like they belong to a timeless soul ballad.  Occasionally things are a touch too fragile though: ‘Star’ is barely audible and Zeffira is undoubtedly at her best when she finds a middle ground between gentle classicism and swirling darkwave pop.  The fluttering synths of ‘Break The Spell’ channel kitsch ’80s disco pop through a filter of despair whilst ‘Here On In’ is as fine and brooding piece of chamber pop as you’ll find. It’s telling that these best tracks are the ones on which Zeffira has enlisted the services of London psychedelic rockers TOY as well as S.C.U.M. drummer Melissa Rigby to fill out the song and it suggests that a good backing band may well do wonders for her, especially with the ear she shows for crafting infectious melodies. That ear is further shown on My Bloody Valentine cover ‘To Here Knows When’ as Kevin Shield’s wall of noise is reinterpreted as a haunting piano ballad with murmured vocals – and honestly sounds all the better for it.

Zeffira is a thoroughly impressive talent, both in her vocal delivery and dexterous composition skills. That said, it doesn’t quite all come together here as a whole album, veering between low-key dreamy ambience and more up-tempo indie pop. There’s plentiful evidence to suggest that Zeffira is capable of doing both incredibly well though, and it’s a promising first solo step which guarantees her next move will undoubtedly be worth watching out for.

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