I had wondered how long it would take for Marjana Semkina to go solo. I always thought her haunting style would go well with other formats outside of the stunning piano work in Iamthemorning. Well, that day is drawing near. Marjana has relabeled herself as “Mariana Semkina”, and is releasing a solo album called “Sleepwalking” through Kscope on February 14th. I am finding this album to be a treasure trove of subtlety and dream-like qualities.
Mariana, as I mentioned, is Marjana, vocalist from Iamthemorning. Her effervescent vocals are especially potent because of her tendency to macabre, melancholy lyrics. There is definitely a dark, Romantic vibe to her writing, and her performance of those words is usually arresting, to say the least. On “Sleepwalking”, Mariana has recruited some fantastic musicians: Vlad Avy on guitars; Grigoriy Losenkov on piano, keys, and bass; and Svetlana Shumkova on drums. There are also guest spots from Jordan Rudess (piano), Craig Blundell (drums), and Nick Beggs (bass). The St. Petersburg Orchestra is also present. Curiously absent, in my mind, is Gleb Kolyadin from Iamthemorning. I think his absence says something about what Mariana wanted to achieve with this record.
Let me clarify that somewhat. Mariana and Gleb seem to be good friends, but Gleb is clearly the one that journalists and other listeners assume is the brains behind Iamthemorning. I know that is not true. I do not think Mariana has received her due credit for the countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears that she has poured into that project, both in writing/performing, as well as in marketing/keeping the whole project afloat. Clearly, on this solo record, Mariana is seeking to come out of that shadow, even if she will not admit it (maybe she already has, I do not know).
With this record, Mariana is clearly desiring to contrast her haunting style with new types of rhythms and, well, musical genres in general. Even though the style is still tinged with neoclassical and chamber qualities, “Sleepwalking” feels far dreamier, darker, and gloomier than I’ve heard from her in the past. Some of the tracks, indeed, are highly abstract affairs. We are used to hearing her with fomenting piano passages, but on this record, the music is far more acoustic and even orchestral. And as personal as the lyrics have been with Iamthemorning, this solo record feels even closer and more impassioned.
“Sleepwalking” is like one of my old, weathered classic books. Its pages are beautifully worn, and it has that rich aroma of nostalgia and yesteryear. But the story inside is as vibrant and rich as ever, and each time you read it, you will garner new subtleties and story points. This album gets better with each listen in that same way. It feels fresh, and that striking tone you hoped to hear is still there, too. The poetry and abstraction, too, are splendid.
My favorite songs are “Turn Back Time”, “Invisible”, and “Mermaid Song”. “Turn Back Time” is one of the singles, and the luxurious, gushing orchestrations make it an instant favorite, one that immediately stands out in the album. “Invisible” is highly abstract, with dark rhythms and loops that seem to raise the hairs on your neck with their proximity and eerie quality. It honestly might become one of my favorite songs of the year just because it is so different and chilling. “Mermaid Song” is a great tune that offers some of the familiar neoclassical vibes, but ends up with a fresher beat and fomenting orchestrations that feel like waves tossing and churning. Much of the album offers this kind of textural, dramatic feeling. It truly is a poignant new vision.
I think “Sleepwalking” is a wonderful start for Mariana’s solo career. It has been a joy to see her progress and gain recognition under Iamthemorning, but I think it is time for her personal musical talent to shine. This album offers that in spades, and the tightness and cohesion of the writing is an obvious sign that she is ready to try new things. I think we will be hearing more from this solo project, and I hope fans will embrace it.
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