After debuting on Ninja Tune two years ago, Richard and Sheila Ellis move to Youngbloods for this album The Cleansing, an eight-track, 36-minute album which, despite its short length, has two relatively distinctive halves. A fusion of jazz, ambient, and mellow folkish ballads, but with subtle production touches like repeating vocal sections more akin to dub, the first half is distinctly mellow while the second half ups the melodrama somewhat.
After the rich poetry and loose form of opener “Acquiesence”, it’s from “Move With Me” onwards that we meet the band’s main structure- soft acoustic guitar patterns with slightly bluesy female vocals lilting in and out. The purity and breadth of the vocal tone is the major selling point, with the long notes on “Paris, Room 14” an impressive feat of control. Often it’s the tone of the sound, rather than the lyrics, that really attract the listener’s attention.
From the opening piano of The Cleansing the extra tension is audible in the second half, but it’s never in your face. The sometimes multi-tracked vocal is cleverly done to add just a hint of alienation. “Far” is a good entry point to the album, on one level fairly conventional pop music but underpinned by odd theremin-like noises that give it a distinctive edge. The almost drunken strings and vinyl-style crackling on “See Her” coupled with a strongly Billie Holiday-esque vocal make it feel like a retro 1960’s dream gone wonky- a vibe which flows into the final piece “Autumn Requiem” that evokes feelings of melancholy in open woodland.
Overall it’s a silky and luxuriant bit of downtempo, spaced-out jazz-pop, not as soporific as its opening suggests, quite engrossing and musically very accomplished and confident.
For extra promotion, the track “Far” is also being released as a digital single on the same date, featuring the album version of “Far” bundled with a studio-quality live version of album track “Paris, Room 14” that proves that Sheila can certainly cut it live vocally as well.