Serafina Steer may be known to more recent gig goers as a bass guitarist, but the harp is her main discipline and true love. After an extended period as a member of Bas Jan and working with Jarvis Cocker on his JARV IS… project, she returns ‘home’ for her first solo album in nearly seven years.
Experimentation is the name of the game, and Steer located herself in a shed in Tottenham to reconnect with the harp and explore the many and varied possibilities it offers. She did this not just as a solo instrument but working in tandem with effects and drum machines. The resulting piece of work, The Mind Is A Trap, shows off the success of those experiments. A mixture of instrumental and vocal tracks, it deals not just with reconnection but with a well-timed warning to listeners of the power of positive thinking.
Steer’s work is radical enough to take the music well away from what the mind imagines a harp to sound like. The glittering Whatmystone sets the mood, shimmering in the half-light like late sunshine on a river. The manipulation of the instrument takes us deep into drone / shoegaze territory.
Lapse is a woozy, half whispered strain of distortion, floating on air with tones rather than melodies until plucked chords from the harp which sound like chimes on a clock. Say What You See is gorgeous, a solemn harp melody intoned over the sustained colours of a church organ. These cut to a texture of breathtaking colour, a powerful harp melody rising from the depths and slowly intoned.
These dreamy, half conscious tracks are complemented by songs that are much more direct. Provides Common Ground has more traditional strumming on the harp, complementing the murmured vocal.
Auto is the stand-out track, however, and is notable for Steer’s remarkably frank insights. Clearly these confidential asides to the studio, now released to the public, inspired the album’s title. “I have lied to myself,” she talks over steady thrumming from the harp. “I have tortured myself, I have picked myself up I have let myself down.” It is a brave move, and segues into the title track, which brings back the shimmering patterns from the beginning to act as a more comfortable backdrop to Steer’s asides. “Sounds like you’ve been overthinking,” says the consoling voice. “The mind is a trap, we have to get free.” Say What You See and Time To Recover are the antidote to make that possible.
To finish, Steer heads for the dance floor, as though her fears have been exorcised for now and she wants to put some distance between them. This Is My Emotion is the track of choice, weighing in with by far the heaviest beats yet, a multi-layered techno track that proves to be a beauty, and closes her stream of consciousness with all senses blazing at the end of the day.
Serafina Steer’s work on tour with the likes of John Foxx, Bas Jan, Trash Kit and JARV IS… has clearly done a great deal for her artistry, adding a number of layers to her already distinctive musical identity. Not all of the instrumental tracks are fully focused but they reveal a meticulous approach that has resulted in a pure beauty of sound. By showing her creativity and her vulnerability in this album, she has taken her expressive gifts to another level.