Boomkat Product Review:
Following up 2022's powerful 'In Free Fall', Maya Shenfeld's latest is a cinematic meditation on the natural world that expertly meshes industrial synths with subtle classical instrumentation and rousing chorals. RIYL Arvo Pärt, Caterina Barbieri, Roly Porter.
Written between Shenfeld's studio in Berlin and on site in Portugal at one of the world's deepest marble quarries, 'Under the Sun' urges us to consider the environment that surrounds us. The title itself has multiple meanings: it's a reference to a proverb in Ecclesiastes ("there's nothing new under the sun"), but also a nod to her time in Portugal, where Shenfeld made field recordings during one of the country's hottest days on record - made more intense by the reflection from the white marble. The scorching intensity is boiled down immaculately on 'Tehom', a brief vignette assembled from creaky industrial rumbles, and humid, evocative environmental sounds. Shenfeld's last album showed off her estimable compositional nous (we compared it to Wendy Carlos and Caterina Barbieri), and 'Under the Sun' is similarly harmonically weighty.
'Geist' is a slow-moving, baroque creeper that looses orchestral sweeps and muted voices in a dense mass of layered electronics. Robust and widescreen, it share some aesthetic threads with so-called "power ambient", but avoids its usual traps. Shenfeld is a gifted sound designer with a knack for sonic sleight of hand, and this elevates her compositions; she uses familiar sounds - synths, distortion, strings - but bends them into something cogent, dramatic and new. The shadow of Barbieri is visible (especially on the arpeggio-led 'Interstellar'), but Shenfeld pulls away from her influence; on 'Light, refracted' she clots a mass of voices (from the Youth Choir Ritterchor) into frozen drones, and on 'Sedek' Shenfeld conjures electro-acoustic creaks while Emptyset's James Ginzburg hammers on what sounds like some kind of dulcimer - it's music that directly connects to the ancient world, shuttled into the present.
Shenfeld sees electronic components in her work as "the sound of a dystopian future or past," while the choir represents "the voice of a shared consciousness." That's made clear on the album's crippling concluding track 'Analemma', a tearful but oddly hopeful choral elegy that's underpinned by bass tones and rumbling, distorted electronics. It's like the final moments of a Terrence Malick film - abstract, yet sentimental.