Whilst many bands chose references and soundbites which say more about what they think they sound like rather than what they actually do, Zialand’s third and latest album arrives with the perfect tag line. Cinematic Soul Pop. And that is pretty much all you need to know, though obviously there is a lot more to her fabulous music than that, but it’s the perfect jumping off point.
I first encountered Zialand in a much stranger musical world, that of John Fryer’s Black Needle Noise adding vocal textures and sonic beauty to his mercurial creations, then, in this guise, driving her own creative vehicle and via the two previous singles, tracks which taken together brilliantly mark the boundaries of her personal musical world. If Landslide plays with brooding yet thoughtful synth-pop and Shelter takes a more soul-blues, classic piano line, both capture the wonderful restraint, elegance and late night hush that is the hallmark of her music.
Chose any song on Unbridled and Ablaze and you are immediately taken to a nighttime world, one of dark, neon-infused streets and cool up town clubs, of noir-ish scenes and soft-focused, urban drama, of romance and reflection. It is music which before you even concentrate on the specifics of the lyrical message or musical content, its very presence sets scenes, a score perhaps to a film yet to be written or a dream yet to be dreamt. Such are its ethereal qualities, its very essence.
As an album it’s all about space. Don’t Look Back is wonderfully dramatic but built only on cascades of vocals and the most minimal of piano lines and even more driven songs, such as Fever, are confident enough to saunter slowly through soft beats and sultry brass rather than rush to impress the listener. And that is the real charm here, Zialand’s ability to take only a fraction of what other artists would deem necessary and still fashion it into something so resolutely understated and so wonderfully restrained that its impact is as striking as any full band effort or more complex musical salvo.
This is music as watercolour painting, music which sketches the basic lines and then proceeds to add only the gentlest, most translucent and sparsest of musical hues, the space and the suggestion allowing the listener to see, or in this case hear, the whole picture. The phrase “less is more” may be a cliche, but cliches are cliches because they contain a kernel of truth. Less is more is also the only cliched thing you will find associated with this gorgeous music.