Sondra Sun-Odeon first made a name for herself as the singer and guitarist for the Brooklyn-based Silver Summit. For the most part, Silver Summit’s self-titled debut was an adequate, though by no means impressive, piece of psych-folk. The one element that really stood out was Sun-Odeon’s excellent vocal performance. Her voice created an eerie and ghostly presence, yet at the same time, she managed to express a sense of humanity. The voice was simply in need of superior backing music. On her solo debut, Ætherea, Sun-Odeon – with the help of some very talented friends – creates a set of songs worthy of her stunning voice.
Ætherea is a collection comprised of meticulously arranged pieces of depressive psych-folk. The core of the compositions is clean electric guitar and strings. On most songs, the percussion is minimal. Sometimes, it consists of little more than chimes, tambourines and cymbals. When there is a drum kit, it remains quite low in the mix. Consequently, Ætherea tends to move to the rhythm of the strings, resulting in songs that feel weightless. The compositions summon images of cloudy skies and deep oceans (images that are further conjured by the naturalistic imagery in the lyrics). Those atmospheres are the perfect accompaniments to Sun-Odeon’s haunting vocals. Sondra has significantly improved her tone and delivery since Silver Summit’s debut. She uses her vocal range quite effectively to produce a variety of sounds and personas. When she sings in the lower range, there’s a soft, buttery, warmth to her voice that recalls Natalie Merchant. When she goes into the higher range, Sun-Odeon’s voice becomes a bodiless entity that soars like a banshee. In these instances she sounds similar to dark-wave singers such as Monica Richards of Faith and the Muse and Elisabeth Frasier of Cocteau Twins.
Sondra Sun-Odeon’s Golden Bird
For the most part, the songwriting on Ætherea is the strong point. The songs congeal into passages of beauteous melodies and then dissolve into odd harmonies and apparition-like wails. The pinnacle of this technique occurs on “Belonging.” This song of loss begins with a somber vocals and a minor chord progression on guitar. Slowly, strings sneak into the backdrop. Sun-Odeon suffers through the realization that that she no longer belongs to her lover, lamenting that, “You need my love like a flower needs the ocean.” As she cries “I’ve lost my belonging to you,” the guitar slips away and a swirling fugue of strings take center stage. It’s as if the ground has disappeared beneath her feet and she is spiraling into a sea of loneliness. Songs like “Lady in the Woods” and “Violent Sea” similarly contrast moments of harmony and dissonance to depict the lyrical narrative.
While most of Ætherea consists of slower pieces of psych-folk, Sun-Odeon avoids monotony by placing “The Apple,” a bright, sprightly, nine minute post-rock instrumental right in the middle of the album. Watery guitar bounces off of strings and jazzy percussion as it gently builds toward a gorgeous peak, before descending into a chilling finale of wordless moans and atonal strings. This light, colorful instrumental provides the necessary counterpoint that an album as dense and moody as Ætherea desperately craves. The directness of “Witches” makes it another outlier. Its simple, hypnotic rhythm and vocal hook demonstrate that Sun-Odeon can produce a catchier song while maintaining her doomy aesthetic.
While Ætherea’s spirit is shady and unsettling, it seems to explore the darkness in search for something divine. These songs convey the texture and complexity of human suffering in a way that provides insight into human beauty. It’s through suffering that we gain grace and wisdom, and Sun-Odeon seems to see the splendor that lies in the shadows. An inspiring album that only yields only greater rewards with repeat listens, Ætherea serves to put Sun-Odeon on the map of contemporary world of psych-folk
Written by Jael Reboh
OurVinyl | Contributor