Sondra Sun-Odeon, one half of the Brooklyn-based band Silver Summit, has released an enchanting solo album titled Ætherea and its another connect-the-dot collection of songs and soundscapes that comes from a different branch of the folk music tree than most of the strictly-acoustic fans are accustomed to. Not being one to hold tight to the traditional, I sort of like that Wikipedia has seen fit to include the term psych folk as its own sub-genre, complete with a definition, which I shall paraphrase: "Generally favors acoustic instrumentation although it often incorporates other elements. Chanting, early music and world music influences are often found, and much like its rock counterpart, psych[edelic] folk is often known for a peculiar, trance-like, and atmospheric sound, often drawing on musical improvisation and Asian influences."
My path to the left of center began a couple of years ago when I first heard Marissa Nadler, the Boston goddess of folk-y goth, do cover versions of Townes Van Zandt and Leonard Cohen songs. The story I wrote about her led me to Arborea, the husband and wife duo from Maine, and long email exchanges with guitarist Buck Curran helped me open my ears to the great Philadelphia band Espers, their cellist Helena Espvall and guitarist/singer Meg Baird. (Greg Weeks from Espers produced Silver Summit's album, which features Sondra and her musical partner David Shawn Bosler.)
Buck guided me to a better context of this musical format, when he described the songs he and his wife Shanti perform as such: "Our recording are quite stripped down, but they have an undeniable mood and atmosphere to them. These ethereal elements are certainly present in the music of Skip James and banjo players like Hobart Smith...elements that can definitely be attributed to the resonance and ring of their instruments and the tunings they used."
Finally...three paragraphs in...my preamble complete...let me just be quiet and share the video and music that introduced me to Sondra. And it features Helena too.
There seems to be a large universe of bloggers and online magazines that have really embraced Sondra and her album, and the reviews have been consistently grand. Here's three that just take the words out of my virtual mouth:
AltSounds: "While it takes the same hazy gaze upon the otherworldly, it replaces the abstract ideas and concepts of Silver Summit with intimate songs of love and loss. It's an intricate album that soars through the ethereal, then dives, pummeling into moments of anxious yet delicate noise, all the while being led by Sun-Odeon's haunting voice."
Blurt: "There's a wildness in Sondra Sun-Odeon's altered folk, a sense not of home-y hedgerows and kitchen gardens but salty, windblown shores. It starts in her flickery voice, now a soft, shy murmur, now an in-drawn octave-leaping breath, now a raw bird-like cry cutting through the mix."
OurVinyl: " On her solo debut, Ætherea, Sun-Odeon – with the help of some very talented friends – creates a set of songs worthy of her stunning voice. Ætherea is a collection comprised of meticulously arranged pieces of depressive psych-folk. The core of the compositions is clean electric guitar and strings. On most songs, the percussion is minimal. Sometimes, it consists of little more than chimes, tambourines and cymbals. When there is a drum kit, it remains quite low in the mix. Consequently, Ætherea tends to move to the rhythm of the strings, resulting in songs that feel weightless."
I reached out to Sondra recently to talk about her album and music, and below is our exchange. She was very gracious with her time, and her responses were quite thoughtful.
EE: I know you're based in Brooklyn these days, but long for the warmth of California. And that you've spent some time in my old hometown, Philadelphia...which has developed into sort of a center of alternative folk styles and players. Are you settled here now or still in the mood to keep moving on?
"Well, I'm going on 11 years now here in Brooklyn, and right about this time of winter, I'm longing for the warmth and sun of just about anywhere, including California! But yeah, I'm definitely in the mood to spend some time elsewhere and take a break from NYC, or at least wander for the good next year...and that will happen, as there will be touring, here and in Europe."
You can hear more music and purchase her album on vinyl or download, at her Bandcamp page.
Silver Summit's EP Blood and Waters is available at their Bandcamp page.