A quick google of the album title ‘Conarium’ probably tells you as much as you need to know about this unexpected delight from Elizabete Balcus, a classically trained flautist who mixes that instrument with electronic and experimental music to produce a wholly satisfying album with elements of dreamy neo-psychedelia, baroque and avant-garde pop.
‘Conarium’ is another word for the pineal gland which is responsible for producing melatonin in the brain, the chemical that regulates sleep and waking patterns. It was this that the French philosopher Descartes regarded as the ‘seat of the soul’ and what linked the mind to the body. Close your eyes and imagine that little lot as a musical setting and you have a good idea what this album sounds like, at turns dreamy, blissful, spooky, ethereal and otherworldy.
This isn’t the first release from Balcus, indeed her debut release ‘Wooden Horse’ was awarded the ‘Best Debut’ gong at the Latvian Music Awards in 2011- if this is a signpost to what Latvian music is like, I need to investigate more. It certainly walks all over any Best Debut winners at the equivelant Brits over recent years. Balcus herself professes a like for such as Bjork, Efterklang, Cocteau Twins and, of course, Stravinsky and cites an ambition on her Facebook page to ‘wear an elephant costume and go out to join tourist groups in the city centre’. So far so good- my kind of girl.
Balcus writes the music and words, plays much of the instruments, including the heavily featured flute which swoops, stutters, trills and soars to great effect over beds of electronica and percussion. She also sings quite beautifully, her voice ranging from a coolly detached Nico variant to a warm hazy hum not unlike Jane Weaver. She frequently employs her voice as another instrument with its whoops, shrieks and groans giving the impression of a ghostly opera singer, while at other times creating an eerie choir by multi tracking her vocals.
Opening track ‘Out’ sets the tone with flute well to the fore and Balcus perhaps fittingly singing of being ‘out of space, out of time’. On ‘Tourist’ the previously stated ambition is touched upon when she sings ‘I’m a stranger in this City, I’m a tourist in your arms’. The lyrics throughout can be a little cryptic, though they do give a sense of trying to understand and connect with the outside world in the same way the pineal gland connects mind and body. It all fits very well with the music.
‘Behind the Castle’ introduces more electronica and percussion into the mix with vocals switching between floating ethereally in the background before pushing forward, asking ‘Is the Castle real?’. There are two tracks which are sung in what I presume is her native language, something which gives added warmth to the vocal proceedings.
Both ‘They’re Coming’ and ‘Jellyfish’ contain some of the more experimental vocal sounds with the former presenting a heady mix of swirling electronica and horns to supplement the sound. Tumbling piano, a gently swelling orchestral sound and that ghostly choir add an eerily disconnected backing to some lyrics that intrigue on ‘The Moon Asked the Crow’ while ‘Purple and Gold’ takes an unexpectedly playful turn part way through.
The final tracks, ‘Luna City’ and ‘Hanging Garden’ add further dimensions to the sound with a soulful delivery and chill house respectively. Overall the album is a hazy, dreamy sonic delight (with just enough surprises) which leaves the listener in a blissed out trance like state, somewhere between the waking and sleeping as the album title suggests. The album is available now through Liminal Noise in the UK.