Review Summary: Evocative debut from promising ambient musician featuring harp, synths, and a fantastical atmosphere.
Los Angeles-based musician Nailah Hunter believes that the most important aspect of her art is its capacity to transport the listener into a healing space. She means it—in addition to writing, performing, and producing her own entrancing ambient music, Hunter plays harp for sound baths and guided meditations around town, gleefully offering her services in interviews. Her debut EP Spells
carries that generous and therapeutic spirit, the mysticism and pathos in her quietly moving songs effortlessly creating a vast, welcoming respite from our frequently stressful and demoralizing world.
Hunter credits being drawn to film scores as a teenager—Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings
and Joe Hisaishi’s Spirited Away
are named influences— for her desire to use her music as something of a world-building exercise. Indeed, much of Spells
is reminiscent of soundtracks, perhaps for a fantasy RPG game or a poignant scene from a sword-and-sorcery movie. Opener “Soil: Song from Silence” introduces Hunter’s transportive, gorgeous harp with a buoyant fireside melody under a quivering operatic voice, both clouded with murky reverb. Bleary, phased synthesizers establish “Enter” before cutting out as Hunter’s layered, wordless singing congregates darkly over delicate harp strums. “Ruins” pairs a cavernous synth pad with a bejewelled keyboard line, the harp that enters adding delicate apprehension to the track’s lullaby-like contentedness. Spells
brims with mystery and otherworldly atmosphere, and crucially, Hunter never allows the potentially histrionic musical themes and instrumentation to get chintzy; it’s not exactly a new age take on dungeon synth, in other words.
While deliberately reminiscent of fantasy film/game scores, Spells
is hardly shackled to those motifs. Hunter’s anemic voice wilts over woozy digital piano on “White Flower, Dark Hill”, recalling the spacious lamentations of Julianna Barwick or Grouper’s alienated nocturnes but with a fantastical quality of her own. “Quiet Light” is ill-at-ease with its delicate drones and warbling, disembodied sound effects, while the gossamer “Talisman” beautifully closes things out with 80’s styled synths cascading over crestfallen harp. Though brief, she exhibits a keen sense of variation throughout the EP, opening a few interesting doors to where she could take her music. I would have liked if she gave herself more time to explore some of those ideas; each of the six songs hovers around the two-minute mark, and their transient nature can occasionally lend a rushed feeling to the project.
Hunter wastes no time on Spells
, offering vivid portraits that draw you in with suggestions of entire worlds behind a humble, yet bewitching presentation. It’s a wonderful salve, but there’s a spark to her work that elevates it far above simple spa music, revealing a remarkable maturity in her compositions and arrangements as well as expert use of space and ambience. Showcasing an assured and imaginative sound impressively early in her career, Hunter’s debut hints at potential that stretches as far as the naturalistic fantasy landscapes she conjures so well.