Boomkat Product Review:
Polish experimental vocalist Antonina Nowacka teams up with Danish sound artist Sofie Birch to engineer a dreamworld that's part Cucina Povera, part Stroom, part Leila, part Blade Runner.. Gorgeous, ghostly sci-fi folk abstraction.
'Langouria' emerged from an impromptu collaboration at Unsound's Emphemera Festival. Sofie Birch and Antonina Nowacka hadn't performed together before, but their improvisation felt natural - Birch's low-key ambient expressions provided the perfect backdrop for Nowacka's assertive, ethereal vocals. When they performed together again at Unsound Kraków in a 19th century synagogue, discrete tracks had already begun to materialize, so they arranged to spend the winter together in Cophenhagen where they developed the final mixes. The duo's respect for each other's sounds sits at the heart of the album; it feels effortless, less an expression of two egos vying for creative supremacy than a singular voice joined by shared inspirations and influences.
After a brief instrumental intro, 'Langouria' bursts to life on 'Morning Room I' as Nowacka's voice floats over delicate glockenspiel hits and rattlesnake percussion. There's really nobody else doing it quite like her right now - her layered tones are so precise and instrumental that they sound intermittently like a theremin, a forest folk cryptid and a lone chorister in an empty Medieval church. Birch's instrumentals are equally as thrilling; she keeps her productions understated enough to provide a comfortable backdrop for Nowacka's virtuosic tones. On 'Sudany', the mixture of breathy analog electronics and cascading bells sounds like a poetic reference to Vangelis's "Blade Runner" soundtrack in its sublimation of Eastern European folk and neo-contemporary electronics. Birch holds back from drifting fully into ambience, allowing Nowacka to lead: it's enveloping, absorbing and attention-grabbing.
Although the album is free from future/dystopia signifiers - there's no pneumatic percussion or Max/MSP scuttling here - the claggy air of sci-fi melancholy is completely unavoidable. There's something about Birch's restrained electronics that evokes the mood of Emily St. John Mandel's post-pandemic novel "Station Eleven"; Mandel's view of the future is preoccupied with memory and loss rather than violence and torture. Birch and Nowacka make similar connections, looping the past into the future and using harps and Mellotron organs alongside wavy analog synthesizers and those unmistakable soaring vocals. The memory of folk, opera, time and place is crucial; the two artists paint a vivid picture in pastel hues, allowing subtlety and narrative coherence to guide their sound completely. It's music that immediately roots us in their world, removing us from our own for just a minute.