littleuniverses - littleuniverses
No matter what, Monica Czerniak, the woman behind Montreal, Quebec-based solo project littleuniverses, has always wanted to be an artist. Whether her art would be tied to music or not was uncertain. She started out as a buyer in the fashion industry before eventually working her way up to a managerial position. However, the amount of career possibilities expanded as soon as she got her Graduate degree, including the opportunity to pursue a music career on the side.
If her self-titled debut album littleuniverses is anything to go by, I would say that her career in music is an incredibly rewarding one. Enlisting the help of producer and musician Randall Dunn (Sunn O)))) as well as musician Arjan Miranda (Black Mountain) among other talents, Czerniak crafts breathtaking experimental soundscapes with deeply poetic words and dynamic instrumentation. Across ten songs, “themes of identity, relationships, struggle, the search for beauty and meaning, love, hope, mysticism and the passing of time” are complemented by twisted dark wave, dreamy folk and rich layers of electronics.
“Magic” truly lives up to its title and is an immediate standout right from the start of littleuniverses. What’s most interesting about this piece, though, is that the repeating minor-key passage of deep bass synth, piano and cello notes contrast so wildly with the lovelorn lyrics. “I’m rising / Like the sparks of these flames / You lit the bonfire in me / I’m seeing things / You’re magic.” Many times I have heard a song with dark lyrics amid upbeat music, but fewer times I have heard this trope played the opposite way, with positive lyrics but downright ominous music. Hard to believe this is just the beginning of the album.
“Woman” is a noticeably less ominous song than “Magic,” even with a chaotic bridge of synths buzzing like bees in a hive. The neo soul-inspired music is tantalizing, the lyrics empowering. “Bird in your hat” sounds like vintage Goldfrapp circa their Felt Mountain era, right down to the quirky title. Czerniak’s deep vocal haze is a perfect match for the song’s trip hop beats and fluorescent synths.
“Forever to never again” throws in a wistful harmonica riff alongside a jazz-inflected rhythm. I can easily picture this tune playing in a relaxed coffeehouse setting. “Will I be a mother” is similar to the preceding track in that it lacks percussion. However, it does feature synths, keys, a guitar and a “Mellotron choir” to serve as an intensely layered backdrop for Czerniak’s ethereal vocals. “See these clouds and I have a deeper understanding / I speak to them sometimes / They feel more stable than my friends.” Dream pop has never sounded this introspective before.
“Snowflakes” cuts through the ethereal mist with crystal clear poetry, which is spoken out loud rather than sung. It’s very pretty for an interlude, despite the dissonant organ motif. Of course, the album wouldn’t feel complete without its gothic lead single, “Sword.” I especially love how the four-on-the-floor kick drums and pounding snares are mixed rather quietly, as if the beats are ghosts haunting the rest of the song. Featuring swells of wet guitars, sinister piano and synthesizers, “Sword” has been said by littleuniverses to be inspired by Depeche Mode’s essential 1990 album, Violator. Considering how much I adore Depeche Mode’s darker take on synth-pop, I’d deem this the most memorable moment on the entire record.
Littleuniverses’ experimental palette continues to grow on “Your lake.” Lyrics really stand out here as well, with some of my favorite lines being, “Some wishes come true / In the form of small bruises / The feelings that linger / Over a series of painful truths.” Strangely enough, the song, “8,” is actually the ninth song on littleuniverses, not the eighth. It’s also written entirely in French. Go figure! I wouldn’t hesitate to classify this piece as dark ambient, even though it’s technically classed as “gentle dark core,” of which I’d never heard of. Whatever the genre, with gentle vocals gliding across droning synths and effects-laden guitar, it is a must-hear.
As strands of dark, acoustic-driven folk unfurl on album closer, “Send it away,” I definitely feel like I’ve learned quite a lot about littleuniverses and the person behind it. It’s always great when you can get the full picture from just one album. littleuniverses is that sort of record, bursting with innovative ideas and enticing melodies. There may not always be percussion or even hooks on here, but it’s so dense in terms of atmosphere and experimentation that this ends up being a surprisingly strong debut. I can’t recommend this enough.
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