For the time being anyway, Mary Epworth appears intent on avoiding cliches and allowing herself every opportunity to pursue her muse, whatever form it may take. Five years on from her critically acclaimed debut album, the wisely dubbed Dream Life, she harbors an absolute air of mystery that carefully conceals any strict clarity of direction and whatever easy branding the critics may be prone to give her. While that initial album garnered press raves, the anticipation for a follow-up was mooted by her decision to delay its successor while contemplating her next move. That added more fabric to her elusive aura and dispelled any notion that her sophomore set would clarify her intents.
While that hasn’t stopped big names from embracing her—she’s appeared alongside any number of high profile artists in benefit concerts, podcasts, compilations and international tours—Epworth remains a singular performer determined to set her own standards. Her new album, Elytral, confirms that stance while casting her in various select settings with shifting forms of accompaniment.
Produced by Thom Monahan, the man behind the boards for such similarly singular artists as Devendra Banhart and Vetiver, the new album reflects his deft approach when it comes to melding effects that are ethereal and evocative all by the same measure. The blend of otherworldly psychedelia, didactic beats, jazz, electronica and ambient atmospherics—manifest in such tracks as “Watching the Sun Go Down,” “Gone Rogue,” “One Big Wave” and “Bring Me the Fever”—clearly demonstrates that Monahan was given free reign behind the boards and that Epworth was only too pleased to offer her encouragement and acquiescence in return.
To be sure, Elytral isn’t an easy listen. The murky atmospherics, propulsive rhythms and Epworth’s siren-like vocals suggest a dark, oftentimes dire, demeanor that seems intent on keeping listeners at arm’s length as far as a grasp on any underlying melodies are concerned. Still, it is a set of songs that begs repeated listens; enticing, hypnotic and filled with illuminating effects that often surface after several return encounters. Credit Epworth with eschewing any formula for the sake of instant accommodation. Music this intriguing, this intense, speaks volumes on its own.