Review: Sylvia Monnier – Never More Camellias

(Cassette, Cosmic Winnetou, 2012)

The minimalistic, greyscale cover of Sylvia Monnier’s newest cassette might remind some of the ultra-simple, bare minimum album artworks from the American label Arbor Infinity (responsible for releases by, among others: Mike Pollard, Brett Naucke or Outer Space a.k.a. John Elliott of Emeralds fame). In fact Sylvia Monnier is not the artist’s real name, just a pseudonym. That’s all I can say at the moment, I don’t want to spoil the atmosphere of mystery; well, if you dig into the Internet for a bit you’ll find all kinds of information you want about the mind behind Sylvia Monnier. If you want, of course.

For now, let’s leave Sylvia Monnier as some sort of female spectral entity taking influences from Rachel Evans (a.k.a. Motion Sickness of Time Travel) – except without vocals, also Eliane Radigue and the more spooky, ambiental moments of Delia Derbyshire. It’s pulsing, it’s distant and reverbed, repetitive, cold, inhuman, yet strangely attractive and soothing. The very opening track, “Cayenne Pepper Elixir” emits extraterrestial tones, faraway bleeps and bloops of the synthesizers corresponding with each other like the location signals of cosmic stations and satellites, sending messages into the void, travelling through the cold blackness at the speed of light. The following, somewhat ironically named “Moving Bodies” adds a chaotic, un-melodic and randomized sequence snaking its way through the dead, frosty drone. But the peak of droning soothingness and emptiness is mastered on the 8 minute and 30 second “Two Currency Street”, which stays in the floating statis for seemingly endless minutes and offering some sweetly psychedelic, somewhat dissonant overtones which layer with the main, quietly industrial drone to form a hypnotizing, sleep-inducing haze.

The rest of the cassette does not stray from the tightly defined, cold and sustained droneadelia set in the beginning. With an occasional overtone or distant processed guitar, ocasionally giving a ghostly apparition of deconstructed vocals or angelic echo, like a celestial choir heard from a great distance (or from the other end of an enormous hall). The drones are almost glacial in their “immobility”, yet incredibly light, almost floating throughout the length of the tape. I hope Sylvia Monnier has more ideas up her sleeve, because “Never More Camellias” brings a nice surprise and suddenly hits the spot in the drone niche. Recommended.


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