With galloping guitars, off-kilter electronics, and quirky, imagistic lyrics, Stella Chronopoulou cemented her place as one of the crucial fashionable younger artists in her native Greece. Since debuting in 2015, Chronopoulou, who information as Σtella, has paired her melismatic contralto with dream-pop synths to inform quotidian but alluring tales that solely wanted small particulars like beer, wine, and a robust come-on to color a whole image. For essentially the most half, she rooted her sound in Twenty first-century pop, however all through her catalog, you would sometimes establish a touch of conventional European music, as on 2017’s “Works for You,” with its thrives of mandolin and synth-flute.
On Up and Away, Chronopoulou’s first album for Sub Pop, these conventional European sounds transfer to the forefront. Produced by Tom Calvert, a.okay.a. Redinho, the music abounds with fingerpicked nylon-string guitar traces impressed by Grigoris Bithikotsis and Tzeni Vanou, two of Chronopoulou’s favourite ‘60s and ‘70s Greek folk-pop musicians. You may also hear the affect of the globetrotting Houston band Khruangbin, whom Chronopoulou and Calvert bonded over within the studio. Like that band, whose once-adventurous music has step by step settled into duller textures, the experiment shouldn’t be at all times profitable, and her mixture of desert blues, psychedelia, and Greek pop erases the idiosyncrasies of Σtella’s greatest songs, registering as little greater than background music.
Chronopoulou and Calvert’s incorporation of latest sounds blunts the sharpness that made her earlier work so engaging. Positive, the smoky, reverbed drums on “Nomad” are nice, however the track is solely nice—nothing about it lingers. The hourglass-slow guitar line and Chronopoulou’s sleepy vocals make the track sound like she and Calvert poured its uncooked supplies into the exact mould of a “vibes” playlist. “Who Cares” is a direct homage to Chronopoulou’s Greek-pop inspirations, however the percussion and bass, together with Chronopoulou’s vocals, are so gauzy you’re extra more likely to tune out than tune in. The issue isn’t that Chronopoulou’s music can’t work outdoors trendy pop fare: The invigorating title monitor from her 2020 apex The Break deftly fused a driving disco beat with playfully serrating strings that evoked highlights from M.I.A.’s Kala. Missing the imaginative and prescient to differentiate the music from its influences, Σtella’s most specific forays into Greek music usually land as her most directionless work but.
It doesn’t assist that Chronopoulou’s voice, which might purr with delicate vibrato or scrape the skies, is buried far deeper within the combine. On 2015’s “Wait on Me,” her vocal management and readability might take advantage of weird lyrics—together with, of all issues, “shaking my ass like a chipmunk”—sound earnest and endearing. On Up and Away, her voice, when it’s audible in any respect, is doused in results that masks her quirks and mix her voice into the instrumentation. The percussion and jazz guitar of “Black and White” usually blur her lyrics, and when she does break by means of the murk, she sings flat, nondescript traces akin to “Ooh, I don’t perceive you” and “You modified your thoughts/However I don’t care no extra.”
The most effective moments on Up and Away reinforce what’s lacking within the worst ones. The title monitor is an energizing, synth-driven gem, a uncommon occasion of Chronopoulou folding her influences right into a sound that feels her personal, with handclaps including a dance-like rush in the course of the refrain. “One other Nation” returns unusual but charming lyrics to the Σtella method (“Run like a pink flamingo/You’re aware of some jail lingo”), and it’s constructed on the document’s catchiest guitar line. Towards the top of the second verse, Chronopoulou reaches into the best, most enjoyable elements of her register: She appears like she’s able to leap off the web page and revisit The Break’s most headphone-filling vocal performances, however she by no means fairly will get there. As an alternative, she lets out some sluggish oohs and aahs, after which, the track is over.
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