Debut albums are never easy, but when you have a voice as good as Rachel Sermanni, it must make the whole process a great deal easier. The Scottish newcomer’s debut album, entitled Under Mountains, revolves hugely around her mesmerising voice, which dominates the album from the very off and continues to take centre stage throughout. Yet, there is more to Under Mountains than just Sermanni’s vocals.
It becomes apparent very early on that Sermanni has taken great care with her debut LP and the end result is a blissful collection of 12 songs, which at no point feel forced or overcomplicated. It’s easy to see why Sermanni has already supported Mumford And Sons, Michael Kiwanuka and Elvis Costello on tour, with her subtle arrangements providing the perfect accompaniment to her stunning vocals.
Album opener, Breathe Easy, demonstrates very quickly the direction the highland-born singer-songwriter has taken on Under Mountains. Sermanni’s crystal clear vocal soars over delicate strings, as she sings: “If eyes could stop their rumored lies/ do you think that we could venture to the light?/ I’d even play my violin/ scratching on the strings, a laughing joy.” It’s followed up by the darker, creeping acoustics of Bones, which is engulfed by a sense of drama and suspense.
Like her critically acclaimed EP, Black Currents, Sermanni keeps the instrumentation minimal on her debut LP, but that’s not to say its rendered meaningless. Take the blissful Sleep, where Sermanni’s vocal is enhanced by a beautiful and fragile sliding acoustic guitar. Then there’s the incredible The Fog – one of the highlights of the Black Currants EP – which sees Sermanni demonstrate her impressive vocal range as she hits sumptuous high notes on the chorus, over a mischievous guitar melody.
Meanwhile, tracks such as the emotive Waltz – which features backing vocals from Admiral Fallow’s Louis Linklater Abbott – and the poignant, piano-led Ever Since The Chocolate capture the folk elements of Sermanni’s songwriting. Yet, the main strength of Under Mountains revolves around the understated production of Communion’s Ian Grimble, which allows Sermanni to employ the old mantra – less is more. The beautiful acoustic melodies never overpower her vocals and consequently the whole album feels organic.
The first person lyrical perspective which runs throughout the album is also very effective, allowing the listener to become completely immersed in the wondrous soundscape that Sermanni has created. “Don’t make this cold for me/ I feel it’s snowing at my feet/ taking me down up on my knees/ I think I need you,” she sings, on the heartbreaking Eggshells. Whether it is autobiographical or not is almost irrelevant. What matters is that Sermanni has fashioned an album dripping with heartfelt emotion and stunning harmonies.
Under Mountains may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but even those who would not be first in line to buy Sermanni’s debut will struggle to dismiss the 20-year-old’s incredible talent. There is still room for improvement and by the time the slow, pondering closer, Song To A Fox, comes around you may be wishing for something a little more upbeat. However, Sermanni is not concerned with catchy, sing-a-long choruses and making songs to appease the majority.
It is a debut album that already displays a lot of artistic maturity for someone so young and one that hints at a lot more to come in the future. Under Mountains may not be the most adventurous first record, but it is hugely accomplished for a debut outing. Sermanni may currently be a relative unknown, but Under Mountains should make sure that she receives the all plaudits and attention she deserves.