Album Reviews

Maya Shenfeld – Under The Sun

(Thrill Jockey) UK release date: 23 February 2024

The Berlin-based composer strikes gold with her second album for Thrill Jockey

Maya Shenfeld - Under The Sun An ominous sense of grandeur that might suggest the imminent fall of an empire. Desolate structures, their shadows bold and rigid on the ground below. Inhospitable, alien landscapes with beauty underneath their surface, a world that could still be. All these things and more spring to mind while listening to Maya Shenfeld’s newest album, a collection of ambient electronic pieces inspired by the threat of climate change.

Under The Sun opens with the droning woodwind sounds of A Guide For The Perplexed, a lingering melody far too inscrutable to conform to a major or minor key, gradually joined by more acidic synth tones and discordant notes in a transient, undulating concoction. Similar vibes are to be found in the portamento chords of Geist or the suitably blustery arrangement of On Its Rounds The Wind Returns, textures that aren’t quite harsh but still evoke feelings of worry and even dread.

Interstellar takes us to a brighter, more optimistic place, as the bloopy arpeggiator spells out a pleasant, consonant sequence backed by Vangelis-style pads – but just before those pads can resolve to their final, blissful tonic they seem to evaporate, the lack of happy ending indicative of more tumult to come.

If much of Under The Sun feels like something is about to give then the tracks Tehom and Sedek represent catharsis, with increased rhythmic intensity and striking sound design. The former sounds a bit like Ryoji Ikeda stuck in a lift, as computerised transients bounce off claustrophobic walls accompanied by rapid metallic clinking, while the latter delves into prepared piano. Its unnerving, jangling sound functions as an alarm, and the heavy thumps, hisses and rumbles are the freak weather event sweeping through your town.

It’s only right that the final song is as beautiful as Analemma, with a multi-layered scalic loop being gradually crushed until all that’s left is choral voices, reverberating into an empty space. As forebears like The Caretaker and William Basinski have demonstrated, decay is an emotionally powerful process and its application in music can be haunting, achingly sad.

Maya Shenfeld’s towering achievement is to craft a highly effective polemical record with no words, the music saying all that needs to be said: throw in imaginative sound design and a deft approach to pacing and the result is an out-and-out triumph.

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Maya Shenfeld – Under The Sun