Ask the Deep
Referring to the silence that returns when 2014's Krómantík EP (MORR 130CD/EP) fades out, Icelandic musician Sóley Stefánsdóttir says, "Your closed eyes slowly start seeing something much deeper and darker," and now that something is here, right in front of us: Ask the Deep is a stunningly dark and deeply personal departure after the minimalist and bleak piano compositions of said EP. Her soft voice leads us deeper and deeper into the shadowy fairytale worlds only hinted at on previous releases such as her 2010 Theater Island EP and 2011's much-praised We Sink (MORR 107CD/LP) debut album. Ask the Deep sees the bespectacled songwriter open Pandora's box -- and close it eventually. At least for now. "Have I danced with the devil?" Sóley asks on album opener "Devil," then crescendos, "Does he still love me?" Once the melodic surges of "Devil" lead to other fairytale soundscapes -- the piano no longer the main character of Sóley's music -- more and more ghosts, both real and imaginary, enter the scene. Inspired by a news story about a man who was buried alive in Brazil, "Ævintyr" marches in circles with tribal beats underneath ethereal swirls, and "One Eyed Lady" is perhaps Sóley's most minimalist lullaby yet, the beatless account of a one-eyed witch who would actually "kill for love," as the song's mantra reverberates into the void. With looped forces of gravity and swerving nods to Philip Glass, "Follow Me Down" is a brooding call to enter the distorted depths, to go beyond the point of no return, to leave the comfort zone. And it's a reminder: we still sink. Amid the flotsam and jetsam, things appear that weren't previously there -- hard-hitting drums set to Beach House vibes ("Dreamers"), a haunted church showdown with the jilted devil ("I Will Never"), even a hint of unlikely, hopeful pop ("Breath"). Taking her listeners on a journey to phantasmal grounds, her sophomore full-length is both more intricate and diverse in how it's written, arranged, and narrated. And it's even more obvious that her voice is crucial in guiding the way to that place where one can live, that safe shore on the other side of the ocean. "You must face your fairytale," Sóley sings. She does, as the music maker, but we are the dreamers of the dreams. Six-panel digipak CD includes folded mini-poster.