Review: Gemma Ray – psychogeology
By her own prolific standards, it’s been a while since we’ve had an album of new material from Berlin-based English singer songwriter Gemma Ray. Save for the 2018 tenth anniversary vinyl reissue of her debut The Leader, it’s been the best part of three years since Ray’s last album release. So to 2019 and the new album, psychogeology.
The opening track and first single, “Blossom Crawls”, takes us immediately to a place of warmth and freedom, with distinctive west coast Californian sounds, surf guitar, laid back drumming and harmony vocals reminiscent of the heyday of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Lyrically, we hear “Oh to feel yesterday’s love” underpinning the song, as a respectful nod to what were perhaps simpler and more optimistic times of the late 60s and early 70s. This song is a welcome dose of summer to help us through February.
The next track is “Death Tapes”, with an eerie guitar sound that conjures up images of a spaghetti western. There are hints, too, of Calexico. Deeply atmospheric, if there was a video you would half expect Lee Van Cleef to put in an appearance, staring off into the distance.
psychogeology: Evoking moods of the desert, with hints of Fleetwood Mac
“It’s Only Loneliness” has an ethereal quality to it, the kind of track that, like a number of others on this album, would be a fitting soundtrack to nights in the stillness of the desert, under the stars. Similarly, “In Colour” builds from a simple guitar riff and is a beautiful song, with evidence even of the vocal influence of Abba at times.
The title track “psychogeology” is strong lyrically and musically and the influence of Fleetwood Mac is cleverly expressed in the musical arrangement. Indeed, the character in the song keeps “looking for a landslide” (a further Fleetwood Mac nod?) and tells us that something is making her “just want to keep driving”, despite “being in this place where the landscape breathes life into make believe”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lyrics of this song seem the most revealing on the album.
Throughout the album, but particularly in the second half, the lyrics seem quite personal and suggest feelings that are jaded yet full of hope. “Land Of Make Believe” is particularly emotionally guarded. My one reservation about the album is that there are a few songs that are similar in this way, both lyrically and musically, and that are arranged too close together in the track order. That’s just a minor point.
The final song, “Summer Comes”, is a nice way to finish and rounds off a fine piece of work. Gemma Ray’s voice works beautifully with the songs she has created.
The arrangements, production and performances on this album create a sense of wide open spaces, transporting the listener to a place out of the ordinary. Given that the album was recorded in Berlin, this is no mean feat and is testament to the creativity of all involved. All in all, it is highly recommended.
psychogeology is out now – listen to a sample here.
photos courtesy of Steve Gullick
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