Album review: Resina – ‘Speechless’: a record that takes cello and choir into the apocalypse

The Breakdown

Eternal, infernal, should you choose to let Resina take you by the hand, she will render you speechless; be forewarned. It'll be one of the most potent brews you'll likely ever drink - you'll feel its ink-purple tincture spread through your veins. It's not an album for everyone; the faint of heart will cower. A difficult album to score, then; I mean, how does one wrap numbers around, say: Vesuvius? How did that rate, for you? As I said: this record is much, much bigger than you. Music for the aftermath.
130701 8.5

KAROLINA REC is the darkly immense talent behind the Resina name, and she’s about to release her third album for FatCat’s modern and post-classical imprint, 130701, entitled Speechless; and as we dive deeper, we’ll see that that title was chosen with acuity. It’ll leave you, often, lost for words. It’s a hell of a record, and much, much bigger than you.

Based in Warsaw, cellist and composer Karolina stepped into the long-playing world five years ago with her self-titled debut, taking the cello into wide, nocturnal landscapes, eerie and brooking no fools, displaying an ambitious vision, and contained dronesome beauties such as “Tatry I”. Traces emerged two years later, and tunes such as “In” moved further into an exploration of a very otherly conception; the cello as mournful as the singing made your breath catch with … well, marvel, actually. A simple enough vocal melody, perhaps, but the depth of what she was conveying … hairs prickling, guaranteed. Amazing music, but asking questions of you with sonics that left you standing absolutely seen.

2020 saw Resina expand her oeuvre, soundtracking the cult RPG video game “Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows Of New York”, a deft marriage of aesthetics; her realisation was towering, inky black, of the netherworld.

In recent times, she’s supported the revived Canadian collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor and collaborated with no less than Christina Vantzou in a studio setting – now there’s like minds meshing in exploring intensity; the virus iced a scheduled album with 130701 stablemate Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch last year. Feeling her way back into what was possible in the changed landscape she began to sketch out new music alone before falling in alongside the 23-strong, Gdańsk-based, experimental 441Hz Choir, recording in the old town hall there as the lockdowns loosened. Instrumental parts were recorded in Warsaw, while Karolina laid down solo vocal parts at home.

“Singing has always felt very natural for me,” she observes. “At one time I even left cello to sing in a professional choir. Whilst discovering that wasn’t what I really wanted to do, performing and recording pieces by modern Polish composers changed my view of choral music and reassured me that the voice is perhaps the most surprising, flexible, inspiring and powerful instrument.”

She began “seeking more experimental, primitive ways of making sound with a voice”; thinking about those denied a voice; and began to explore treating “the human voice primarily as an instrument, while testing what the word ‘human’ actually means in a music deliberately created without the use of words.”

There’s an unflinchingly primal power to her work, and piecing together Speechless, she felt that she needed the right polish to execute the record as it should be. It was almost there; one final jigsaw piece. She approached Daniel Rejmer, whose work with Ben Frost she admired, for the final production and mixing; there’s talk of him giving this record teeth and oh my, and then some; it has fangs.

“I felt as if something was pulsating underneath these pieces but didn’t know how to get it out,” Karolina says. “I felt there was potential to make this album more unpredictable, raw, dangerous and somehow more natural, primal.”

She particularly approved of the results with regards to the singing element, adding: “With a choir you might expect it to sound like some kind of more polished, classical music, but our aim was rather the opposite.

“I wanted to scrape away those layers of sound synonymous with refined modern-classical music, which I feel sometimes only serve to maintain a safe aesthetic.”

She describes the finished album as “a dance on the mud floor, a search for vitality and an admiration of the unpredictability of nature, which we still have a chance to watch for a while, before it decides to get rid of us.”

Come venture into this record. But don’t expect to emerge unscathed.

Karolina Rec, aka Resina

Listen, there really is no other thing to do put to plunge in. You may not be able to see bottom, sure. But this record is about surrender; any pretence of control will be stripped from you soon.

“Mercury Immersion” shocks as if iced water; there is purity in that muezzin-call flute, but the 441Hz Choir absolutely scours, radiant with a cold light. There is beauty, immense beauty – beautiful, at the point it tips into terrifying, like the slow, blue-green of a crumbling glacier beetling overhead. You have to allow yourself to be torn apart by this. You can see how Karolina and Christina Vantzou would work well together; there’s a couple of points when the vocals transcend, pierce with an ecstasy in both senses of the word (including the darker, Biblical connotation); some of the vocal treatment approaches Tim Hecker or even, bear with me, shoegaze guitars in the bleed and overtone.

“Horse Tail” seems a safer, more formal court, at least in the opening, as the choir chants a staccato, Koyaanisquatsi-minimalist phrase, but keep your senses alert; Karolina’s cello peaks, fades, as drums punch with a metal power, the cello abrading, buckling, sirens upping the instinctive chill, the whole now strafing. As with the opener, this is the individual human astray in a world without care, although within a world entirely of our making, it’s one that completely dwarfs us in the singular. Sobering. These two openers dwarf you in the way Kevin Richard Martin’s Return To Solaris does – eerie, almost to the point of erotic.

Some relief is accorded to your brittle frame by the cathedral polyphony of “Failed Myth Simulation”, somewhere closer to the modern classical feel than the openers; but there’s huge, grand pulsing and percussive battalions amassing, and the cello sings a partially buried drone fire. The choir slurs down the scale with chilling effect.

“Darwin’s Finches”, named for the birds in which the scientist began to see evolution and speciation, permits a more naturalistic element, with birdsong chit-chattering and allowing tropical colour to intermingle with the droning choir lament. You can tarry, here, relax; but be aware. This is the dance before nature decides to be rid of us. Microtonal drops and glitching interjections keep you on your toes.

The second half begins in a similar vein, in “Unveiling”; again, there’s that break in the canopy or the clouds to allow a more balanced anthropocene texture; strings and voices blur and daub in beguiling echo, but as the track begins to spill and torrent, the melodies buckle and begin to slide, caving in. The cello, suddenly insistent, the massed choir, redoubled, plaintive, counterpointed by those liquid lurches. Again it’s very pretty but intentionally and potently discomfiting. It’s gone in a moment, its traces left in the echo.

“Manic” strips right back to the cello and begins as more a study of that instrument and Karolina and how they mesh; sibilant, seeking, creepy. But hang fire; that title. An opening passage worthy of graveyard mist or dive bomber footage is quickly cracked clean open by mechanical-industrial rhythm, Merzbow-heavy, the cello insistent and fighting for breath. A fire-blackened synth gets it on with a thrumming response within the molten wheezing. Manic as hell. Polite modern classical this sure ain’t. Come up for air.

“Hajstra”: herein Karolina explores resonances and grinds and judders of the most mechanically processed stripe. She pushes that cello, pushes it out to its very limit and further. This is the sound of an instrument repurposed, its previous life some fleeting memory. It’s less than two and half minutes but allows you to glimpse the music being played bottom right in Bosch’s painting, “The Garden Of Earthly Delights”. “A Crooked God” stays in that same fever-dream, bringing a distorted, tenebrous folk sensibility akin to King of the Slums – just add careering, skeletal dance with cacophonous drums shocking the circled participants. Climb back out of that dizzying, lurching premonition of a dystopian near-present in “A Crooked God”, the closer, in which the 441Hz Choir, Karolina herself a Vantzou-banshee centre, exploring further the emotion and chill possible in vocalising, at least allows humanity, though a humanity perhaps racked by its own nuclear winter; a song to close, stationed at the intersection of Arvo Pärt and HR Giger. so complex and infernal.

Eternal, infernal, should you choose to let Resina take you by the hand, she will render you speechless; be forewarned. It’ll be one of the most potent brews you’ll likely ever drink – you’ll feel its ink-purple tincture spread through your veins. It’s not an album for everyone; the faint of heart will cower.

A difficult album to score, then; I mean, how does one wrap numbers around, say: Vesuvius? How did that rate, for you? As I said: this record is much, much bigger than you. Music for the aftermath.

Resina’s Speechless will be released in the UK on November 19th digitally, on very limited vinyl (500 copies) and in a limited CD pressing (350 copies). Manufacturing delays mean availability in record shops beyond the UK will be early 2022. However, all formats are available to international customers via the FatCat webstore and over at Bandcamp and will ship per the release date.

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