The word ‘rock’ has many meanings, but for Gemma Ray the most important is surprising for a musician, but you may be able to guess which it is from the title of her new LP. The Essex-raised, Berlin-based singer and songwriter is affected by the landscape and aims to explore this, when she takes to the road to tour. Whilst the term ‘psychogeography’ has certain been flung into the mainstream, Gemma Ray is drawn to the time-defying, time-defining outcrops that exist beyond our cities, and the manner in which this natural architecture underlines “how small we are, how trivial the most unsurmountable of our personal problems”.
Considered Ray’s most ambitious release to date, its intricate arrangements and textures, including the choral and string arrangements, is the reward of almost a year’s labour determinedly hewn from rare periods of time available between tours. The album, she says, is “an ode to the majesty of landscape, the enormity of nature and time, and the inevitability of every human life eventually forming a minuscule part of further landscapes.” She describes this album as her autobiographical record, intended as what she feared would be her final letter to her dying grandmother, with whom she was particularly close. Her accompaniment alters the mood from this poignant tone, which reflects the mood change offered by her surroundings, the life-affirming clarity: “Giant valleys, deep ravines/ I see your face in all of these things”.
Tis self-produced, heartfelt eighth album, recorded in part at Ray’s own studio in Berlin’s old mint by the River Spree, but mainly by Ingo Krauss at Candy Bomber, buried deep within the Nazi-constructed buildings of the city’s former airport, Tempelhof. Ray who has previously worked alongside, among others, Sparks, Suicide’s Alan Vega, Thomas Wydler (The Bad Seeds) and arranger Fiona Brice. It seems she is well-versed in collaboration and that makes this record seem all the more intimate, along with the autobiographical aspect.
Psychogeology clearly documents Ray’s trouble, “Troubles hide/ Taking a back seat and just biding their time” in the haunting but nonetheless beautiful ‘Land Of Make Believe’, but the conclusion of the track is optimistic: “For the time being/ I believe/ I am free”. Meanwhile, on the sci-fi synth-heavy Dreaming Is Easy, she battles more demons, meditating upon how, “when the night falls hard upon me/ Believing is beyond me”, only to surface with the knowledge that darkness in fact frees her: “When I’m soaring through the atmosphere/ Real life disappears”.
In Colour feels precisely that, embedded with musical richness, the multi-layered track oozing warmth from the arrangements. The reverb-drenched, 70s pop swagger of Blossom Crawls,explores a specific incident – a panic attack in the back of a taxi – her overwrought sensation that “Blossom crawls back into its buds” transformed into an affirmative resolution to “put a stop to its cruel tricks/ Gonna get there first to soften the hit”.
An album of troubled songs, which seem less troubled by their musical landscapes, it would appear that Gemma Ray has culminated an album that reflects her own need for the transformative landscapes. We too find much richness in the musical surroundings of the vocal forefront, offering room to breathe among the darker lyrics.
Psychogeology is out on 15th February 2019, via Bronzerat.