The ‘singer/songwriter’ tag carries so many negative connotations currently. By listening, you play a game of Russian roulette – will you get another chart topping copycat, an unsentimental and listless love song, the latest open mic night ‘sensation’?
Luckily for Sonja Sleator, and for us, the sheer emotional weight and genuine quality of her songwriting does not suffer as a result of this tired old genre label.
Joining the likes of Phoebe Bridgers and Angel Olsen with a downcast, yet melodic and roots-influenced style, Sleator’s newest EP ‘Violent Strawberry’ sounds fresh and original while retaining all the comfort and warmth of the pioneers of the confessional songwriting genre.
Drenched in spring reverb and light delay, opening track and single ‘Ghost’ quickly turns from a slinky guitar riff into a folksy, conversational piece built around staccato guitar rhythms, barebones percussion and a sultry, muted ascending/descending bassline. The sparse arrangement in the verses perfectly contrasts the more optimistic chorus, aided by a bouncy acoustic guitar strum to round things out as the lyrics put the titular spectre in their rightful place – “I just wanna say ‘No, we’re not together’… / Go back where you belong to”. The affirming coda brings it all to an ironically haunting close – “It doesn’t haunt me anymore” – you can almost feel the catharsis.
Continuing in a similar vein, ‘You Claim To’ and ‘Goodbye’ carry welcome echoes of Red House Painters, Low, Jeff Buckley and even Father John Misty with their delicate arrangements, perfectly crafted melodies and devastatingly honest lyricism. For an EP that feels so firmly rooted in the folksy experimentalism and introspection of the late 90s/early 2000s slowcore movement, each track passes like a pleasant warm breeze – the many ephemeral moments of striking beauty throughout this release warrant repeat listens. Multi instrumentalist and producer Michael Mormecha’s subtle musical landscapes give these songs the much deserved room they need to breathe.
Stand-out cut ‘You Never Said’ perfectly encapsulates the dark, wry wit of Sleator’s writing amidst a backdrop of soft quasi-jazz percussion – “Just leave me be / You’re a bastard, but so was he”.
It is rare that such subject matter – the need to escape and lament for things unsaid – is executed in such a balanced, honest, and above all, enjoyable way.
Just as suited to balmy summer nights as it is to blustery winter evenings, Sonja Sleator’s ‘Violent Strawberry’ is genuinely one of the most memorable releases of the year so far.