A solo career for Mariana Semkina has probably been a long time coming. After exploring moderate success with iamthemorning, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Russian duo would want to build and build on a pretty successful career and put ideas of solo albums to the side. Alas, both members of iamthemorning are proud of taking their time and a seemingly calm temperament when it comes to making new music. Perhaps this is why Semkina has decided to focus on her own musical goals, and debut effort Sleepwalking
definitely seems to be a great start to a hopefully illustrious career.
Whilst each and every song here is Semkina's own, there's still a lot of apparent influence from iamthemorning, unsurprisingly so given she has written much of the band's songs. This isn't at all a bad thing however, mostly due to how well the album flows and especially how each song seems so smooth in their individual deliveries. “Turn Back Time” for example flourishes with uplifting prowess and demonstrates that even with less focus on instrumentation, it can still be an important song. Semkina harmonises perfectly with the backing melodies, the poppier songwriting style lending more importance to her simplistic albeit meaningful lyrical content, but as her voice soars during the chorus it is done so with pleasant underlying panache. It is of course one of the album's loudest
songs, for want of a better word, and the rest of the album seems a lot gentler in comparison. Indeed, the only other song which prides itself on growing tension, especially in its closing moments is “How to Be Alone”. Progressing from the get-go into a passionate, all-encompassing soundscape, the song features Semkina at her most authoritative as she serenades with such intent, bringing the poetic lyrics to the forefront as the song takes on a personal, emotional journey.
Semkina may well be at the forefront here, understandably, but she has also brought in a slew of guest musicians to give an extra kick to most of the songs. Unfortunately, the instrumentation here is at its best in delicate and often brief moments, and the flourishes in question merely appear in the second half of numerous songs rather than from the initial moments. “Am I Sleeping or Am I Dead” rivals the album opener thanks to its initially powerful keyboard work, and though the song is centred around Semkina's lyrical work it still manages to wow the audience with an aspiring sound, one which culminates in wispy atmosphere. Then there are songs such as “Invisible” and “Skin”, which strangely seem to demonstrate more of an ambient sonic presence, one which remains so for a good couple of minutes before both second halves open up into a gentler yet still melancholic soundscape. “Skin” however has more going for it due to the rhythm section growing in confidence and its accompanying piano work providing a prominent aspect. Less impressive songs such as “Ars Longa Vita Brevis” and “Mermaid Song” unfortunately dwindle in comparison, and whilst they are still written well, it's actually the general delivery of each instrument and even Semkina's hidden vocal work which fail to rise above the subtle intro.
Most songs within Sleepwalking
suggest that Mariana Semkina has done this for herself and perhaps the majority of iamthemorning's fanbase, and in that respect, she's done well. Perhaps it's not the most creative or indeed prominent collection of songs the iamthemorning vocalist has put together, but what has been put forth here is a display of honest, affectionate and passionate songwriting. It doesn't have to be in your face, or show off. All that should be expected of Sleepwalking
is an emotional, heartfelt journey that ensures you'll have an open heart by the end. A fine start to a solo career it is, if nothing else.