(a) is the new 4 track EP from heka, an artist raised in the Italian hills but who now lives in London. The descriptor ‘experimental folk’ is a good one as the songs feel like they have been built on shifting sands. The kernel of the music is familiar but then lots of woozy elements have been woven through the tracks, so you get the same feeling you do when looking at an Esher drawing: just as you think you have made sense of one element you notice something else that flips your perception and so your brain never fully rationalises it.
The opening track ‘mask’ is unsettling from the start with a saxophone-in-an-underpass field recording which moves through an electric piano in one key (recorded at a friend’s house in San Diego) under Aldous Huxley on acid and finally changes key and morphs into a gently muted acoustic and electric guitar song. heka’s voice is almost a ghost in the song as it glides from the centre to the right speaker and then becomes many voices, some reversed and then track closes with seaside organ and clip-clop percussion. ‘wires’ is the shortest song on the album and feels like an invocation with heka’s voice ringing out strong and true across her cathedral of curiosities. “I peel the wires open, it’s all exposed, your throwing water at them, it’s dangerous” and heka says “‘wires’ ironically acts like connective tissue, cable tying the songs together in a neat bundle”.
‘dab’ is almost the most conventional song on the EP, but only in the middle. It starts with a sparse set of electronic tones and reversed sounds, like am antenna trying to make music from what it’s picking up from the stars. There is an ache in way heka sings about the comparison between love and addiction and the crescendo at the end feels like the brain’s fugue state not being able to make sense of conflicting emotions. The closing track ‘wall’ has the feel of a Rozi Plain song. There’s a temperate mood to heka’s singing which belies the songs subject matter “I guess the song is an ode to anger. Not in an absolute sense but as the cathartic alternative to the numb powerlessness that can take over and swallow every other emotion when we find ourselves in a painful or shocking situation”. Its muted production gives the impression of a thick carpeted parlour with the grandfather clock-like tick of a drum machine and the magnificent, layered trumpet playing of Jemima Coulter who readers may know from the fluid band that is Hailaker.
heka’s leftfield take on folk is heady and the lack of bass or conventional drums adds to the sense that the songs are free to float around and travel to wherever they want to go. They can drift through walls, dimensions, time, and space and this timelessness allows the songs to be simultaneously ancient and futuristic. The 12 minutes duration is also meaningless as these are songs to stretch time and expands minds.
Review by Paul F Cook