It is winter. Just look at the signs: it’s cold. It’s dark. And there are a litany of expensive looking, stupendously sentimental adverts accompanied by breathy, drippy covers of old songs clogging up the TV. But, even if it wasn’t, even if you were baking on a sun lounger in the Cote d’Azur in the middle of July, Rachel Zeffira’s The Deserters would still send a chill through your bones.
Zeffira first came to prominence as half of Cat’s Eyes alongside Faris Badwan of The Horrors, who last year birthed a self-titled album. Congratulations, we said, it’s a collection of ‘ 60s girl-group indebted to sophisticatedly cinematic numbers. Is Joe Meek the godfather?
The two of them have now started a label (RAF Records) and their first release is this, Zeffira’s solo debut The Deserters. Somewhat of a different beast to Cat’s Eyes, if there was a certain sassiness to that, there’s a whole lot more introspection at the heart of this. Less leader of the pack, more shivering in the back.
More spindly, more gothic and, as mentioned, a lot more wintry. There’s definitely more of a classical slant to it as well, perhaps not unexpected given Zeffira’s background, but it doesn’t come at the expensive of accessibility. They may be accompanied by the kind of instrumentation that normally requires you to strap on a haughty sense of self-importance before you’re allowed to hear it, but the songs on The Deserters are still pop.
Alongside the strings, the woodwinds and the church organs, Zeffira’s voice sounds simultaneously innocent and (bitterly) experienced, and also otherwordly and ethereal. It tip-toes through the orchestral surroundings with a sense of tremendous grace.
At times it comes together to make something wonderful, yet worryingly fragile. There’s such delicacy to tracks like Front Door such that you long to seal them in a velvet lined box and only bring them out on special occasions, lest the clumsy, ham-fisted world damage them. Then there’s the starkly sad, yet truly noble Star, or the twinkling cover of My Blood Valentine‘s To Hear Knows When. They are all tremendously elegant, in an elegiac kind of way.
The drawback to all of that is that The Deserters is not an album that pulsates with energy. Aside from the purposeful gallop of Break The Spell, these could almost be a series of swan songs, moving through their existence with a sad nobility, gently pushed to conclusions by subtle nudges of instrumentation. They are almost apportions. Appearing fleetingly in front of you before dissipating into the ether.
Eerie, melancholy and yet strangely soothing, The Deserters is an album to treasure, whatever the season.