Rachel Zeffira’s debut solo album ‘The Deserters’ is both beautiful and beguiling – a gauzy, rapturous tour de force that mines both Zeffira’s classical training as well as the pop sensibilities she displayed as one half of Cat’s Eyes. It might recall at times the baroque pop of John Cale and the hazy experimentation of My Bloody Valentine, but at heart it’s a largely unclassifiable record that stands defiantly alone and apart from its peers.
The album grew from her first solo recordings – a wondrous cover of My Bloody Valentine’s ‘To Here Knows When’ and the evocative ‘Waiting For Sylvia’ – which she sung, played and orchestrated in the summer of 2011. Spurred on by the positive results – the music was greeted enthusiastically by everyone from Pitchfork to NME – she began to piece together songs for ‘The Deserters’ when time allowed. The process was unusual because the writing often took place in unexpected locations such as local churches.
If that ambience permeates ‘The Deserters’ in a subtle way, the most striking sonic component of the record are the orchestrations – a central feature of what elevates Zeffira’s music into the extraordinary. Having drawn great acclaim for her multi-instrumentalism and orchestration on the debut Cat’s Eyes album, the breadth and ambition of what she’s achieved on her solo album are perhaps even more strikingly impressive. Once again, the orchestra was recorded at London’s legendary Abbey Road, and once again they threatened to bankrupt Zeffira.
In ‘The Deserters’, lyrical themes of old friends, half-remembered letters and once-known stories peep through the layers of reverb and orchestration. The precision and orchestration of ‘The Deserters’ could not have come from an artist without Zeffira’s extensive musical training, but its sound is anything but that of cold formalism. Rather, the record has an elliptical warmth of an album you know will be a lifelong friend.
“I can’t erase my classical past,” says Zeffira. “My favourite piece of music of all time is ‘The Swan’ by Saint-Saëns. I’ve heard it millions of times, but I’ll still stop what I’m doing to listen to it until the end.”
In an age where we rarely watch a YouTube video without clicking out of the tab, Rachel Zeffira’s album ‘The Deserters’ is that rare thing: a record that stops you in your tracks and forces you to pay attention. It’s another astonishing achievement by an increasingly remarkable artist.