Album review: Sophia Djebel Rose – Métempsycose 

Words by Grey Malkin

Operating from out of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France, the work of Sophia Djebel Rose offers a trip down a darkly psychedelic path, one of chanson laced folk replete with odd shadows, thorns and moments of startling beauty. With echoes of Buffy Saint Marie, Leonard Cohen, Low and Anna Von Hausswolff, Djebel Rose’s debut solo album, Métempsycose, follows on the heels of 2020’s self-titled EP (released on the Future Grave/Reverb Worship label). Formerly of inventive and avant-garde folk troupe An Eagle In your Mind, with this EP Djebel Rose presented as both a bold and unique songwriter and performer, singing in her native French yet communicating intimately and directly to the listener, and using traditional folk music and ballads as a medium but twisting and shaping these into new and unusual forms. With the primary focus upon her voice, here Sophia was framed by sparse nylon guitar and subtle harmonium drones, creating a skeletal and hauntingly frozen atmosphere. With her new release, Métempsycose, Djebel Rose follows a similar modus operandi, with her haunting vignettes framed by various organ bursts, electronics and woodwind, each piece a crepuscular and dark jewel.

‘Le Palais’ opens the album, a lone reverberated and rough-hewn guitar shimmering in solitude alongside Djebel Rose’s at once arresting and immersive vocals. There is a Lynchian Twin Peaks hue at play here, as traditional chamber pop structures are stretched and twisted to suggest an eerie and unsettling undercurrent. This is further amplified as an urgent harpsichord and a choral mass join and surge, taking the piece to an even greater intensity. As an opening, it is incredibly powerful, a breathtaking and profoundly affecting experience. ‘Liberté’ follows, a darker and more hushed creature, with spoken word interludes and a doomed, chanson air. Djebel Rose’s ability to carry a song at its bare bones, just voice and guitar, is amply evident here, and is reminiscent of latter period Scott Walker, such as his minimal, experimental yet dramatic classic ‘Tilt’. ‘Venus’ is next, tense and taught, a masterclass in carrying a dramatic and brooding atmosphere, without the need for superfluous flourishes or hackneyed effects. Sophia’s voice here is at its most transcendent, and she says herself of the song; ‘Everything happened as if Venus herself, descended from her sky, had borrowed my voice to express herself. I only understood afterwards that it was she who had spoken through me. Tired of being this mute icon invented by man, the song of Venus turns out to be conquering and warlike, gentle and implacable’.

Sophia Djebel Rose

Next, ‘Le Diable et L’Enfant’ is underpinned by wraithlike organ and glistening electronics, a funereal yet defiant outpouring whose ghosts haunt long after the song itself has finished. ‘La Louve’ is a work of doomed beauty, of circling, pacing guitar and hushed, pensive vocals penetrated by bursts of church organ, like light through a window illuminating between the shadows. ‘J’appartiens’, meanwhile, is carried on gorgeous waves of woodwind and strings, adding a baroque and colourful cloak to the song’s impassive Leonard Cohen styled darkness. By contrast, ‘La Clairière’s desperate undertow is evidenced in its urgent guitar work, in the growing maelstrom of Djebel Rose’s voice, until the storm breaks and the guitar notes fall like despondent rain, ever harsher and more brutal as the song becomes an elegy to both heartbreak and personal darkness. ‘Blanche Canine’ follows, a gentler, more resigned yet still emotionally resonant offering, reminding this listener of a welcome blend of Cowboy Junkies at their most stark, and Francois Hardy’s bleak La Question. The album finishes with ‘Nénuphar’ (which translates as ‘water lily’), Sophia’s guitar echoing and transmutating, acting as a string section of violins and cellos in parts, her multi tracked vocals providing a stately choral mass as the piece builds and layers towards the ominous electrified hum that closes the song. The innocent quality of the nursery rhyme vocal element sits alongside this tempest in a beautifully unnerving fashion, there is something here of nature tarnished, of simple beauty being held in shadow.

A stunning and captivating piece of work, Métempsycose is quite unlike anything else you may find or hear in contemporary psych or field circles. Minimal yet richly detailed and layered, quiet yet with a vast emotional reach, there is a genuine depth to each of these songs that will reveal more upon each listen by candlelight. One for late nights, for moments of heartbreak and for whilst the storm is raging outside, let Métempsycose be as a companion or fellow traveller for these darker hours.

Available from March 21st as a download, CD and on vinyl.

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