Like, perhaps, many of my readers, I knew Jane Lui’s music mostly from her cover songs. But I really liked her voice and so I decided to back the Kickstarter for her new album, Surrija. By the time this review is published, I’ll have had the album for about 2 months. For this review I’ll first focus on my initial impressions and then my impressions after having listened for a while.
My house is not full of Sonos speakers, Amazon Echos, or Google Home devices. So when I want to listen to music, it’s either on the living room sound system, or (more often now that I have kids), playing from my phone wherever I happen to be. Because of aforementioned kids, I rarely listen to music with headphones on while at home. That whole preamble is to say that I’m often listening to music, whether it’s Taylor Swift, Louis Jordan, Audioslave, or Billie Holiday, through my Pixel’s speakers. I would strongly advise you not to do that on your first listen of Surrija. While I normally don’t have issues with music through my speakers, Surrija (as we’ll refer to Jane Lui since that’s her new stage name with the album in italics) is trying to push boundaries with this album and until you get to know it, it just sounds extremely discordant coming out of speakers. This is particularly true with the first track, Nothing Love. The percussion that opens up the album is halting, seems to fail to maintain a tempo, is full of glitches – like glitch pop or a badly encoded MP3 and seems to challenge the user. Barcelona also starts off with some strange beats and Surrija singing with a very eerie voice and purposely out of key, before she moves into a beautiful rendition of a bridge that shows her range and that she’s purposely pushing her voice to put out a certain atmosphere. So, on that first listen on my phone, I wasn’t happy with my Kickstarter backing.
Then, the next day, I threw the album on at work (we have an open office, so headphones are the only way to stay sane) with some headphones. Suddenly I was able to hear the full range of what Surrija was trying to do with this album and I went 180 on my opinion. This was a great album that was worth waiting for! Surrija has put a LOT into this album and I would love to hear her do an episode on Song Exploder about any of them and how she decided what to layer into each track. So, without further ado, my thoughts on each track.
- Nothing Love – Interestingly, the song that at first listen (again, from my phone’s speakers) turned me off from the album ended up being my favorite once I gave it a proper listen with headphones on. Musically, my favorite part is the chopped up horns that accompany the chorus. Surrija’s haunting voice on the bridge is my favorite vocal part of the song.
- Barcelona – This song also has a beautiful chorus that shows off a lot of the strength of Surrija’s voice.
- Sylvette – This is the first song with a bit more of a pop sensibility. If I were introducing someone to Surrija, I’d start with this song. It has a much more common baseline where the percussion is not fighting the song. It’s also a great jam that I find stuck in my head for days after listening to the album.
- Minotaur – I’m not sure what the title has to do with the song, but this is a very interesting song. There’s a certain tension that builds musically and vocally that gets released with the chorus, right as you hear “She changes everything.”. I’m not entirely sure if it’s meant to be a hopeful song, but it certainly elicits that feeling in me.
- She learned not to be scared – This is a very haunting piano piece that sounds very familiar. Is a reference to a famous piece? Is it actually a famous piece? Either way, it’s a great, short track.
- Gilot – we return to some out of tune instruments in the melody, combined with sparse beats, and Surrija’s beautiful voice. I think this is my second favorite song on the album.
- Turnstile Hostile – while not as straightforward as Sylvette, it’s definitely a song that could be a single that helps take this album up the charts. It progresses to a crescendo in the end that really pays off.
- Dora – This one is in conversation with Minotaur. It’s also beautiful and appears to contain a duet, although it may just be Surrija singing with herself thanks to recording and editing technology.
- Mercy Street – A third song that could be a single, but this one a very slow, emotional one. Funny thing is that I’m pretty sure I’ve heard similar lyrics in Christian Rock. In fact this song reminds me in style of Plumb. Of course, don’t take that to say I’m accusing Surrija of copying anything, more just an observation of how certain themes appear in certain contexts.
- Semibelieve – Another slow song.
- h u m – doesn’t really function on its own. It’s more of an interlude into the next song.
- Almost Time – A good closing song. Powerful, if a bit melancholy sounding.
This is definitely an album worth buying. If you’re no longer buying music, definitely worth streaming. You get more out of it with every listen. Check it out!