Album review: MARIANA SEMKINA – Sleepwalking

MARIANA SEMKINA - Sleepwalking

Kscope  [Release date: 14.02.20]

Mariana Semkina is one half of exceptional Russian “chamber prog” duo Iamthemorning whose delicate, fragile and occasionally disturbing songs have breathed new life into the quieter side of progressive music.

Her long term partner in IATM, piano virtuoso Gleb Kolyadin, plays no part in this project which, according to Mariana, is an opportunity to express herself and delve into her own life experiences.

And it’s quite a trip into many aspects of the human psyche and, maybe, an opportunity to slay a few of her own demons along the way.

It is testament to Iamthemorning’s meteoric rise that Semkina is able to call upon talents from the world of prog such as Craig Blundell (Pendragon, Steve Hackett, Lonely Robot, Frost*), Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson, Lifesigns, The Mute Gods) and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) on a few tracks, and the amazing talents of an ensemble from the Saint Petersburg Orchestra.

Semkina’s voice is a precious and delicate thing, often drawing comparisons to Kate Bush and you can hear that – but for me, the gentle timbre of Tori Amos – in her quieter moments – is the closest reference point.

There is much to admire on ‘Sleepwalking’ – the complementary acoustic guitar work of Vlad Avy sets the tone for many of the album’s best moments – the intro of opening track ‘Dark Matter’, the lovely ‘Ars Longa Vita Brevis’ and the desolate ‘How To Be Alone’ are all highlights.

There’s beautiful cello too on ‘Ars Longa Vita Brevis’ and also on album standout ‘Mermaid Song’ but rising above all of this loveliness is Semkina’s voice – always expressive, always captivating and, essentially, always sympathetic to the subject matter.

Mariana Semkina has written an album of songs that thrill, soothe and surprise in equal measure – who could not be moved by tracks like ‘How To Be Alone’, ‘Am I Sleeping Or Am I Dead’ and ‘Lost At Sea’? – but more than that, she has established herself as one of the finest singers in contemporary progressive music.

An intense listen – but rewarding beyond measure.    ****

Review by Alan Jones

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