How do you review an album such as Alien Lullabies?
You could talk about what it sounds like, which other than slight hints of Fever Ray, Boards of Canada, and at times Underworld, is not very much really.
You could talk about the lyrics, but considering that Fiona Soe Paing sings largely in Burmese, and Google Translate is no help even with the song titles, you’d be going down a dead end that way too.
So you’re left with raw feelings that it inspires, uncertainty but never discomfort, nervousness but without feeling scared, especially on the opening three tracks ‘Prelude’, ‘Tamin Sah Pade’ and particularly ‘Tah Stin Koh Mpor’.
‘Swamp Blues’ is closer to something you might have heard before, distorted vocals singing “you must have been, twisted and torn, you must have been, lonely and lost”, just about reaching above the thick bass and sparse drums.
‘Two Sisters’ and ‘Winter’s Day’ have a more peaceful, Sunday afternoon feeling to them, which lures you into a false sense of security before the stunningly out there second half of the album.
‘Daymoon Sun’ is the stand out track of the album by this point, a howling paean to goodness knows what, with a staccato bass and a soundscape of electronic effects, including one that sounds like The Predator, all blending into one of the weirdest tracks you might ever hear.
And as a counterpoint, ‘Heartbeat’ is as close to a pop song as the album will give you, slow and sexy, hypnotic in its exhortations to “sleep, breathe, deep, forever going down”, with the chorus vocals lifting from high and clear to low and scratchy.
‘Behrot’ returns you back to the unsettling otherworldly ambient vibe that comprises the main thrust of the album, but following that ‘Tower of Babel’ reaches for the gods, and wouldn’t look out of place on a Bjork or Aphex Twin album.
From the opening snaps and screeches, to the chaotic chopped up melody, to the cacophony of multiple vocal streams, to the perfectly placed silences, few musicians touch on such perfectly pitched experimentalism as this.
‘Roller Ghoster’ is a slight comedown after that, but anything would be, it’s Underworld-esque rhythms not so lullaby like, but alien all the same, whereas ‘Time Clocks’ brings you back down to earth with a spaced-out version of Brahms’ Lullaby, proving that Fiona Soe Paing does actually create music that belongs on earth, despite what the previous hour’s listening may have convinced you.
Words: Stevie Williams