If the witch of the winter decided to bluster her way into a recording studio, hook up a frost-tinged piano, play havoc with the building electrics and lay down the deepest yearnings of her soul, you might get something approaching Johanna Glaza’s ‘Wind Sculptures’. Ever a musical tinkerer with a passion for all things odd, The Lithuanian-born, London-based songwriter and former frontwoman for Joanna and the Wolf has embraced crisp pianos and undoctored vocals in this attempt to keep folk music fluid. The result is a hypnotic, if sometimes jarring, voyage on the breeze.
‘Wind Sculptures’ listens like a midnight walk through a snow-capped forest. From brisk opener ‘Space Mermaid’ to haunted musicbox finale ‘Don’t Fall Don’t Break’ Glaza’s crystalline vocals are the only constant. Instruments, harmonies, and electronics flitter in like passing wildlife but never stay too long. Teamed with Glaza supernatural, softly-accented lyrics, the result sounds like an album’s-worth of sweet incantations.
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The album is strongest when it’s at its most stripped-back. Taking the choice to avoid reverb or echo, Glaza’s voice is staggering in its bare fragility, and it excels when given the spotlight. ‘Million Years’ and ‘Coming Home’ exemplify this. Glaza’s voice reigns supreme with nothing but a gentle piano to stand on, with synth swells and percussion left tentatively in reserve to leap out at only the most essential of moments. ‘Arctic’ too (ironically one of the album’s less frosty tracks) shows Glaza at her most vulnerable, with nothing but a saccharine ukulele and a few fleeting harmonies to support her. That’s not to say Glaza can’t handle volume. The title track features more lavish instrumentation than much of the album, but Glaza sweeps easily from Joni Mitchell to Regina Spektor and makes it her own.
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The electronic dalliances are more of a mixed bag. When used well, like the chorus backing on the singable ‘Space Mermaids’, they inject a sense of threat and urgency to the piano arrangements that serves them well. Though occasionally they come off as superfluous in an otherwise brilliantly stripped-down album, with the wailing synthesizer on ‘In The Shadows’ in particular riding roughshod over the song. But thankfully, more often than not, the electronics serve Glaza well from the side-lines and never leap into the spot.
Ultimately, the album’s strength lies in its hypnotic quality. Though ‘Wind Sculptures’ and ‘Space Mermaid’ work perfectly well as singles, this is an album best listened to in one sitting. Each song compliments the next, and brings you further into the trace. Throughout the journey Glaza herself remains consistently dazzling, toeing the line between innovative songwriting and singable melodies. In short, Glaza has done what she set out to do in creating a starkly original folk album. It’s courageous, it’s haunting, and you’ll find yourself hearing it on the cold north wind.