Chrysalis is the new album from virtuoso duo AVAWAVES, one of the most brilliantly talented acts making music today. And Chrysalis more than does justice to that billing; an album of stunningly elegant piano, swirling strings, subtle synths and awe-inspiring majesty.
I discovered AVAWAVES by accident, when they were supporting Erland Cooper on his 2019 tour, touring their debut album Waves. I was blown away by their expansive sound, delicate and yet full and demanding, filling every bit of space in the venue; I bought the album after the show and have listened to it on and off ever since. Chrysalis builds on that debut, the soundscapes just as large and mesmerising, the musical narratives expressive, exquisite and emotionally charged. It is an album full of awe and wonder, celebrating the magic of nature, imagination and the power of dreams.
The duo have a wealth of musical experience. Anna Phoebe is a composer and violinist who has recorded and toured the world with huge bands, as well as being involved in monumental collaborations with the likes of the European Space Agency. Aisling Brouwer is a composer and producer currently based in Berlin who has worked on scores for documentaries and films such as White Riot (BIFA-nominated) and Lioness, a film directed by Helena Coan about British boxing champion Nicola Adams. These credentials and successes come as no surprise when you hear the quality of their music for the first time.
Title-track Chrysalis is a truly magnificent opening piece, evocative and ambitious, touching on the themes of change and transformation. The cello here is beautiful. There’s a beat that sounds like the pulse of a living creature. It is an evolving piece of music, cinematic in scope and incredibly well executed. Seahorse has keys that ripple across the surface of the piece, giving the music a friable physicality, a physical space or shape so that you feel as if you can reach out and touch the sound. The music here shimmers, not traditionally classical, in fact hard to pin down, but just as moving and beautiful as anything in the European classical canon.
Danu is a dynamic, slightly experimental piece carried along on a wave of synchronised artistic energy. Emerging Flight is all about the delicate keys and the gorgeous strings. It is hauntingly beautiful, ethereal almost. It builds gently, just like the first flight of a fledgling bird, taking off on fragile wings, slowly becoming stronger and more confident before disappearing, fading away towards the horizon. Before We Wake has a similar dreamlike, hypnotic quality, its only weakness being that it feels like it should go on for longer.
On Midnight Bird we see the first collaboration with a different artist, the first time AVAWAVES have invited somebody into their dreamlike world. Newcastle poet and musician YVA delivers elegiac lyrics and powerful vocals. There’s an uncanny, mystic and slightly distant feel to the piece, as if the music is drifting into earshot above a misty, Celtic forest, from a different space and time completely – genuinely haunting. Lucid Dreaming was recorded separately, in complete darkness, the musicians feeling for each other’s presence both physically and spiritually. The result is sublime.
Forest Whispers conjures images of wooded wilderness, of connected trees, of forest glades and the breathing or perhaps sighing natural world. The swelling strings here are again stunningly beautiful, the superlatives not able to do it justice, whilst the piano flits and creeps, allowing the track space to breathe. Sail Wave comes close to influences such as Nils Frahm, a slightly more consciously ambient piece in the piano-electronica tradition than elsewhere on the record, though still exquisitely and uniquely the sound of AVAWAVES. The final track Awakening is Celtic in spirit as well as sound, with flashes of Irish melody and beats that trad Irish dancers could easily work with in the modern age. It is big, theatrical and thrilling.
Chrysalis is a completely compelling, utterly beautiful record. It is dreamlike, transcendent, celestial. The musicianship is outstanding throughout, the themes are big and bold, the soundscapes cinematic in scale but subtle in composition. It really is a stunning record and if possible as lockdowns are eased, it really is worth trying to see AVAWAVES live. It is an event that will stay with you for a long time.
Chrysalis is out 8th October 2021, released by One Little Independent Records.