Sylvaine – Nova Review

I’ve become a jaded man-cat over the last few years or so. I can blame Covid, or humanity’s lack of… well, humanity towards one another, or a myriad of other reasons. The fact of the matter is whenever I turn on the news or see yet another impossibly bad hot-take on BBNN,1 the anger that begins to well up inside me can power my home city for months. So, what’s a grouchy man-cat to do? Listen to Nova, the fourth full-length by Norwegian/French multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Kathrine Shepard, aka Sylvaine, that’s what. Having reviewed not one, but two, albums of hers, I knew what to expect.

Or so I thought. Sure, her wisp-like singing and fight-or-flight screams are still in full effect. Her guitar playing and songwriting, once again, do not fall into the black-and-white landscapes so much as they grow increasingly vibrant and arboreal with each passing second. But this time, the layering of that soundscape, something that was lacking a bit on 2018’s Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone, allows for better build-ups, cascading breaks, and powerful releases. Album highlights “Mono No Aware” and “Fortapt,” the two longest songs at almost ten minutes and twelve minutes respectively, ebb and flow like a butterfly caught in a wind gust. The beauty is always present, but when that turbulence hits, it hits hard. New drummer Dorian Mansiaux adds so much to the intensity of those moments, especially with the build-up near the middle and the outright phenomenal fills near the end of “Mono No Aware.”

It’s that layering that propels Nova above even her own prior work. Whether it’s via careful placement of new sounds and instruments and where they make their appearances (“Nowhere, Still Somewhere”), or if it’s simply her ability to layer her own voice for the best impact (the a capella opening title track, as well as proper album closer “Everything Must Come To An End”), Sylvaine’s knack for sound placement is impeccable this go-’round. Each successive listen, and there have been a lot of those, unearths new sounds, more layers, and more earworms that weren’t there on earlier listens. All of this, and it’s beautifully wrapped in a (mostly) calming-yet-highly-emotional journey that doesn’t bore for one second.

The Benoît Roux production also allows for every instrument to breathe better than before. Cellos and violins are given the proper space, and Sylvaine’s guitar melodies and voice shine with a brilliant light now. If there’s a single complaint to be levied here, it’s in the bonus track, “Dissolution.” Mind you, it’s not a bad song. Not by a longshot, in fact, but musically it doesn’t quite match the other six songs on the album proper. Still, more Sylvaine is always a good thing, and this is the most nit-like of nitpicks.

Whenever an artist I’ve reviewed and enjoyed drops an album seemingly out of nowhere, it’s always a good time for me, and it always gives me something to look forward to. But when that artist surpasses even my sometimes lofty expectations, that’s a whole lot better, and Sylvaine’s done that with ease on NovaWistful painted a beautiful world teeming with lush colors and emotions, Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone added shades of grey and black to the vibrancy, and now Nova provides the necessary light and shadow, developing untold depth and perspective. This all makes for a much-improved work of art.

Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 4th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. The Blue Bird News Network, aka Twitter. Still better than the cesspool that is Facebook, but not by much.
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