Review : 9/ 10
There’s a certain folkloric quality that’s embedded in your mind, as the music shifts from the nuanced beauty to the darker , more solemn places in between. Portland based singer -songwriter R Zak ‘s album ‘Dialects’ is truly a kind of extended passage of discovery, gentle at times then suddenly haunting and nurturing. It’s the kind of album that does more than showcase her versatility as a multi-instrumentalist who was classically trained and isn’t afraid to shift genres; it showcases her own identity beyond that of her artistry. You’re instantly drawn to her sound like you would to a n intriguing personality, with a lot to say and a lot of kindness to share. It’s something which is very seldom achieved, when an artist’s own voice as a person shines through the music.
The album is full of the more Beirut like timbres of world folk under the songwriting form of indie ( R Zak had opened for them ), and perhaps this is why the title is so fitting. ‘Dialects does just that, exploring the subtle yet evident boundaries of world music traditions, through her viola, synth, layered vocals and polyrhythmic anthemic courses that seem to weave their way through each track. Starting with the opening track ‘ Villanelle’, you’re instantly reminded of a younger Loreena Mckennitt, taking you through an electronic minstrel of time and space. There’s a certain haunting quality to the voice of R Zak, and perhaps this is why her voice is mostly double tracked and overdubbed throughout the album. ‘ The White Birds’ is a dreamscape of bygone thoughts and desires, less rhythmic, slowly gaining a yearning desire to push through the seal of dreams . Balkanic in harmony, indie in percussive delivert, ‘Silver Slow Moving’ paints a picture of R Zak moving through the fields of her songs as it were; her entire work is so purely metaphorical it almost provokes the listener into interpreting it in a multitude of ways. ‘ Caracola’ is my personal favourite, truly a mesmerizing collision of worlds ( Spanish lyrics) , both musically and literally. The introductory hum is utterly captivating, proving that R Zak grew up in a household where she was exposed to a variety of genres at any given time. More importantly, she was taught as a student herself not to feel rooted in just one form of music. I was convinced, halfway throughout listening to her album with ‘ Les Silhouettes’ that ‘de-rooting’ the listener was R Zak’s intention. Harkening back to her Irish sounding vocal phrasing, with electronic moog enhancing the siren like trippiness of her songwriting. ‘ Paisaje’ just continues, quite literally to shapeshift and offer the kind of ecstatic freedom you get when travelling, again quite fitting to her track title. This is also the most musically intricate track of the album, with a strong emphasis on polyrhythmic conversation between drummer, flute section and looped moog. ‘Atomic Elegy’ takes you to to a darker place, again quickly shifting into a danceable , track whist R Zak’s vocals gently echoe Sarah Mclaughlin’s ‘Siren’ ethereal qualities. As if on cue , ‘ Reading the Sunflower’s in September’ provides the album with a much needed pick me up , showcasing the romanticism of R Zak’s psychedelic playground . I would have liked to hear R Zak’s vocal track without all the reverb and effects, but inherently this is essentially the sound of the whole album – to represent another worldly backdrop to our reality. It’s admirable to stick to a specific vocal sound, and I think R Zak has done it brilliantly . One wouldn’t have been able to draw out the musical mystery behind each track , making R Zak much more than a singer-songwriter’ it makes her a singer, composer and multi instrumentalist. So the reggae track that followed ‘ Winona’s Aria’ was nothing short of wonderfully satirical, uplifting and fun. I truly, genuinely smiled from ear to ear when the last track of ‘ Dialects’ came on. ‘Dew Dreams’ is a kind of evocative suggestion to the listener to either continue living in the norm, or in the dreamlike state of playfulness that, let’s face it , we all wish we could live in.
R Zak’s album ‘Dialects’ drops May 7 , from this wonderfully hypnotic independent artist . Listen to it here