Upcoming artists are often celebrated as unique to ramp up the hype, but it’s rarely merited. In both life and music, Alya has earned the accolade. Born in Russia, but now living in L.A., she spent a considerable amount of time travelling in her younger years. This experience of transience immersed Alya in different cultures, which have become the hallmark of her weird and wonderful music.
Lo-fi, clipping keys akin to a broken toy box kick off the record on ‘Animals’. Marching drums and gorgeous, mournful vocals thread the listener along gracefully before the sudden turn into a menacing whisper. As with a lot of her work, the tune is only vaguely conventional, amalgamating diverse styles and instrumentation with an odd structure that flows ever onward rather than repeating itself.
A militant beat mixed with ethnic percussion instruments kicks off ‘Seven’, a swaying, enchanting pop number. Alya’s tantalising harmonies are at the heart of what could pass for the soundtrack to a high-budget thriller movie.
Moving forward, the record takes a reflective, wounded turn on ‘Heart Shaped Hole’. Alya’s clever use of modes and well-timed key changes build a well of character on this track. It’s a simple piano ballad at heart, but an immense amount of studio effort involving instrumentation overdubs and polished mixing has resulted in an exponentially denser, more intriguing product.
‘Twenty Six’ is comparable to the the Mars Volta in ambition, chaos, busyness, and drumming virtuosity. Her cross-cultural osmosis is on display here with scratching vinyl, bombastic drumming, ethereal vocals, key solos, string crescendos, and telephone processed vocals all vying for space in the mix. It’s a fine example of Alya’s innovative claim-to-fame as an artist and a great introductory track.
‘Hachiko’ marks the only dud on the album, though it isn’t without its merits. The string/piano dual force is saturated in Disney princess levels of sweetness, and this can be a hard swallow. The track comes across as obscurely childish in an otherwise adult, cerebral album. For what it’s worth, the arrangement is undeniably well-constructed, and Alya’s vocal performance is sincere as always.
Alya shows off her Japanese chops on ‘Romano’. Staccato melodies twin with electro-powered beats and curt, grandiose string ornamentation, all spaced out with an addictive pop chorus, delivered in English.
Album closer ‘Colorful Dreams’ showcases Alya’s futuristic sounding electro-jazz. It’s hard to think of another example of music marrying wistful clarinets, lounge room jazz, and hard, crunchy synths with glitchy vocals. Flying Lotus would be proud. Somehow, she makes it work, and that’s the magic of her art – ambitious and ground-breaking, yet without pretension. Alya is a genuine must-listen for any music nerd.