Skybelly (the nom de plume of Sara Nelson) has just released her stunning debut album, ‘A Space Tramp Odyssey’: a widely evocative and creative magnus opus which is a deep and rich concept album. Operatic and dramatic in nature, it is a stunningly brave debut which adeptly creates an alternate reality that is steeped in psychedelia, with the deep purple hues that colours the album matching the midnight universe in which it is set.
The title says it all: this is an operatic tale full of vivid imagery and drama:
Set in a future 1000 years from now, it tells the story of Judy Raminero, a travelling writer, as she journeys across the cosmic world.
Nelson’s voice is mesmerising and expressive – echoes of artists like Lana Del Rey, Stevie Nicks or Bjork with an operatic range that floats above complex orchestration and arrangements. The journey takes us through a cornucopia of vibrant sounds and imagery – immersed in a dream pop reverie.
Opening with ‘Behind the Carousels’ and the throaty roar of an engine starting, the tone is reflective at first before slowing sparking into a dreamy flow, with glitchy sound permeating the background and wild psychedelic guitars. It is trippy and slightly unnerving but Nelson’s voice entices and enchants – partly spoken, partly sung. Engines turn into horses in ‘Rider’, a faster paced layered track with an inherent pop sensibility and syncopated beat.
Nelson’s musical proficiency ensures there is variety and surprises in the sounds – ‘Viper Room’ opens with a fairground carnival sounds and Nelson’s evocative spoken work imagery of excess and adventure – slipping into a kind of prog rock piece with Mark Knopfler style meandering guitars. The circular sounds and spaced out vocals in ‘The Cavalry’ is mesmerising.
The single ‘Sapphire’, premiered in Backseat Mafia earlier this year, is a wild adventure – part operatic, a soft electronic thrum with persistent percussion and ranging structure telling tales of a heady encounter. Hypnotic, trippy and sensual: it is a feast of imagery and sonic pulsation. Nelson says of the track:
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you meet people that you just click with. Their mind ignites your mind. You talk for hours and laugh till your stomach hurts, and every moment is an adventure – whether it’s going to the 7/11 to get a vanilla coke or on a spontaneous road trip at 3 am. No topic is off-limits – you can be yourself, with someone else, in a way that’s almost radical – it’s almost like a rebirth, to discover that you can be so seen and understood by someone else. In a world that has such conflicting values, this kind of bond is rare. You can’t engineer it or work hard for it or hustle it to life. This kind of love is a precious mystery – and all the more beautiful for it.
This air of impetuosity and abandon flows through the track itself: something untrammelled and wild, exotic and free.
Like in any opera, the story is the vehicle, and in tracks like ‘Stanley the Cat is Missing’ Nelson’s vocals are softly spoken and enchanting as she expands on her futuristic tale with a sensuous aura.
The album is essentially a fascinating journey, detailing a wide variety of experiences and emotions. ‘Ink’ is like a torch song in some underground nightclub, Nelson’s voice enticing and velvet-cloaked against scraping strings in the distance. ‘The Ravens’ is loaded with anxiety and a sense of horror.
Penultimate track ‘We Keep Riding’ has an almost Brechtian feel – worn out, studied, filtered through a smoky haze in some red lit bar. The album leaves with a dreamy spoken interlude fittingly called ‘The End’: an evocative and dramatic end.
‘A Space Tramp Odyssey’ is a stunning work of art that is statuesque and bold, fresh and creative and an immersive experience. This is an album to put on late at night and listen to in one sitting – with, perhaps, the addition of chemical enhancements for the brain – to let it soak into to every corner of your mind. Nelson’s voice is magnificent in its range and textures, her lyrical tale enchanting and indelible and the music truly operatic and theatrical.
The album is available to stream and download in all the usual places and though the link below: