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Up and Away Siobhan Kane , June 24th, 2022 08:19

With producer Tom Calvert, Stella Chronopoulou imagines her fourth album as a found object, promising a lost image of mid-century Greek pop

This fourth record from Athens-based visual artist and musician Stella Chronopoulou folds in musical influences that swirled around her childhood: 50s and 60s pop and trad folk, songs like Sousourada by Nikos Gounaris, and artists like Grigoris Bithikotsis, and Tzeni Vanou. Growing up by the mountains and the sea, she recalls being woken by neighbouring shepherds’ sheep bells, and that “pure and innocent” element provides another colour to a rich record steeped in history, with a nod to modernity.

When London-based producer Tom ‘Redinho’ Calvert saw one of her concerts in Athens, a collaboration was born, bonding over a mutual love of Khruangbin, Elias Rahbani, Altin Gün, and Aris San. With Calvert’s astute knowledge of 60s soul traditions, a concept emerged, of a record that could have been found amid a box of old records, perhaps in an Athens record shop.

At only thirty minutes long, thematically, it is an immersive rummaging around the myriad facets of love, which seems emblematic of Σtella’s sensibility, partly fermented while painting at Athens School of Fine Art, when she began writing and releasing her songs into the world. Building on her previous three works, which were in some ways more gritty, Up and Away is warmer in tone, harnessing a kind of analogue spirit.

Σtella has talked of being in a “very emotional state at the time” of creating the record, and there is something pleasingly heightened about the work. The title song, with its dreamy vocals, looks back to the past, and the “people on the streets” that “are singing together” brings to mind a sense of togetherness. ‘Nomad’ sounds like Sade holidaying in Greece, and ‘Charmed’, with its groovy basslines, channels the ghosts of The Chiffons with every “shoop shoop”.

‘Another Nation’’s evocative percussion is a joy, and the guitar-led ‘Black and White’ is reminiscent of the kind of intelligent pop of ‘Chewing Gum’-era Annie. ‘Titanic’ takes in a little whistling and thumping guitars, and ‘The Truth Is’ with its lilting vocal, adds mystery to the soft R&B. ‘Who Cares’ showcases Sofia Labropoulou’s kanun playing (also on ‘Is it Over’), and half of the record features the rich, improvised bouzouki playing of Christos Skondras.

The sole instrumental of the record, ‘Manéros’, is pure Balkan. With its traditional rhythms from the drums and bass, it sounds like something Madlib might care to sample. Manéros as a form was described in the nineteenth century as “a ballad of erotic passion bursting from a heart on fire, or a deeply charged lament for the loss of one’s beloved”, a charge that could be levelled at this entire record. This is the pop we need; considered, vital, comforting, spiritual.