Ana Silvera – The Fabulist
Independent – 22 April 2022
To say that London-based singer and multi-instrumentalist Ana Silvera is diversely talented would be a massive understatement. As a child, she sang opera and played piano, before taking an interest in traditional song forms. She became an expert in Judeo-Spanish song, composed work for ballet, theatre and choir, and found time to collaborate with artists from multiple genres, from Imogen Heap and Jim Moray to composer Emily Hall and poet George Szirtes. While a decade-long gap between her debut studio album The Aviary and its follow-up The Fabulist might suggest a slow work-rate or a lack of intensity, the opposite is in fact true. Those ten years have been fruitful. The collaborations have been prolific and on top of that, there have been a series of impressive solo EPs, a whole bunch of commissions in various media and a beautiful and highly accomplished live album, 2018’s Oracles, which took the form of a song cycle covering themes of grief and recovery.
The Fabulist sees her get together with a new band (with the exception of double bassist Jasper Høiby, a long-time collaborator), and the result is an album that veers closer to the classic folkiness of the great sixties and seventies singer-songwriters than anything she has previously released. Producer Gerry Diver helps bring a certain lushness to proceedings, where the layers, though often dense, are lightened by the subtle nuances of the individual musicians.
Opening track Halos is a perfect example. Initially characterised by minimal, bubbling instrumentation, it places Silvera’s vocals very high up in the mix, allowing the full range of her voice to become immediately apparent. Then a dramatic string section kicks in (Scott Walker is an acknowledged influence) and the whole song billows out into something quietly spectacular. The lyrics are rooted in visual experience, at once candid and mystical. The vivid images, drawn from human interaction and the natural world, are like little paintings that first appear to be still-lifes but on closer inspection flicker with their own magic.
This magic seeps into the whole album, brightening every song, and though its source is mysterious its effect is mesmerising. Sink Or Swim is a more obviously folky offering with its acoustic guitar, but there is still a richness and complexity to the way the song pans out which says as much for Silvera’s poetic sensibility as for her varied musical history. There is more than a hint of Joni Mitchell or Shelagh McDonald here, but the idiosyncratic percussion and twinkling, shimmering background ensure that it never sounds derivative.
Early Frost – an irresistible duet with Alan Hampton – is built around soft keys and gently plucked strings but hides a darker lyrical heart, and those darker themes emerge more fully in Ghosts, which details with admirable frankness the sudden, crushing onset of Silvera’s younger brother’s psychotic illness. Red Balloon has an almost Leonard Cohen-like sense of drama, and the way it describes the intangible thrill of a new relationship also bears comparison with Cohen. Silvera’s brush strokes are perhaps more impressionistic and sometimes more surreal – the symbolic images of the scorpion and the moon exist on the same plane as the tower blocks and pound shops, with no hint of incongruence.
This intermingling of the symbolic and the realistic continues on the arrestingly pared-back Queen Of Swords, whose wordless chorus is dark and yearning. The song’s final three words, foregrounded as the music drops away, are particularly vivid: a stark and chilling moment on an album whose thrills are otherwise more softly focussed. Pont Mirabeau is a nostalgic Parisian vignette, delivered with simplicity and restraint and never tipping over into schmaltz. Magellan is a slowly unfolding highlight that crystallises the album’s lightly-worn themes of fate and fortune, romantic destiny and nostalgia. A haunted melody, an eerie twinkle of mandolin and Silvera’s quietly compelling voice combine to both undermine and reflect the song’s outward prettiness.
The Fabulist ends with an extraordinary, voice-and-piano cover of Björk’s Hyperballad, which in its original form is a wired, experimental dance-pop masterpiece. In Silvera’s hands it is both bleaker and more hopeful. She somehow makes this brittle and bold statement into something ambiguous. It could be seen as a microcosm of her whole artistic practice – she has an uncanny ability to combine discomfort with beauty, strangeness with simplicity. The Fabulist – whose very title casts her as an Angela Carter-like teller of curious stories – is the perfect distillation of these ambiguities.
Pre-Order The Fabulist (out on 22 April) via Bandcamp:
Ana Silvera Tour Dates
MAY 4 WED – Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham-by-seaMAY 5 THU – The Anvil, BasingstokeMAY 6 FRI – Friends’ Meeting House, OxfordMAY 7 SAT – The Met, BuryMAY 8 SUN – Stephen Joseph Theatre, ScarboroughMAY 10 TUE – J2, Cambridge Junction, CambridgeMAY 11 WED – Reading Town Hall, ReadingMAY 12 THU – St. George’s Bristol, BristolMAY 13 FRI – Colchester Arts Centre, ColchesterMAY 14 SAT – Aldeburgh Jubilee Hall, AldeburghMAY 19 THU – Bush Hall, London