[sic] Magazine

Ela Orleans – Circles Of Upper And Lower Hell

The ever-interesting Ela Orleans has long been one of the most intriguing voices of the underground and with Circles Of Upper And Lower Hell, her seventh LP under her own name and a continuation and expansion of last year’s Upper Hell, she’s literally confirming the fact in a couple of senses. Influenced by Dante’s Inferno, the Polish-born Glaswegian draws – over 25 tracks/73 mins – on her extensive back catalogue to once again dig deep into sound collage, dark composition and Gothic synth textures. No stranger either to a dramatic double album, Circles is a personal and metaphorical descent with cinematic scope, a baroque symphony that’ll both sound familiar to those already conversant with her work and to those new to the party.

Thematically, Circles begins in Charon’s watery cave system, eerie whispers, doomed lounge music and scratchy turntables paving the way for glitchy keys and beats. Orleans’ ghostly choral harmonies haunt the shadows, sorrowful woodwind, gong splashes and menacing ambience enveloping creaking spoken parts and miasmatic synth drones. Punctuating the gloom come aching pop statements, the first suite peaking with the standout “You Go Through Me”, a dreamy track that features the singular talents of Stephen and Katrina from The Pastels, his low vocal a weighty counterpoint to Orleans’s tinny beats and organic drift.

Numerous interludes function like palate cleansers, moments to yourself amidst chiming electronica, melancholy mews, church bells and ominous prose. In the abyssal regions, Orleans plays the part of a little lost girl, crackling noise standing up the hairs on the back of your neck. The further she journeys, the more entangled she becomes with Dante’s narrative. “Beatrice”, for example, guides us through luxurious but downbeat synth-pop, while the hypocrite “Caiaphas” is condemned in jauntier tones.

Bolstered one track earlier by a wheezy organ turn that tries to get a groove going, “Ghosts And Whispers” towards the rear end of the running order is alien pop as only Ela Orleans knows how to deliver, its light beats and melodic humming irresistibly catchy despite the track’s underlying sadness. Equally ambivalent, “Dionysus” is a stately swell that’s musically at odds with its titular tyrant, but lyrically one that’s suitably Stygian. Finally, to the heart beat and whip-crack of black electro, Circles closes out at the treacherous doors of “The Well”, the very centre of hell where Satan resides. That we don’t ultimately enter is maybe telling. Social commentator that she is, perhaps Orleans is implying that we’re all already there?

Best track: “You Go Through Me”

~Circles Of Upper And Lower Hell is out now on Night School Records.~