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Irina Shtreis
Ether Amanda Farah , July 12th, 2022 11:25

For her first album under her own name, Irina Shtreis conjures up dreamworlds out of electronic loops with a sure-footed lightness of touch, finds Amanda Farah

On her debut album, Ether, Irina Shtreis, originally from St. Petersburg and now based in Reykjavik, has tapped into some of the baseline mysticism of her current home, using the album as an exercise in world building. Choosing organs and keyboards as her primary instruments, she creates a musical palette that nods at being intentionally out of step with our reality, bringing to mind old fashioned ideas of fantasy worlds.

As song titles such as ‘Invisibility Cloak’ and ‘Wild Creature and Wizard’ suggest – and indeed the title Ether itself – Shtreis has an inclination towards the fanciful. Songs are frequently built on loops, both in the programming sense as well as structurally ending where they begin. It’s a pattern repeated throughout Ether, with the strongest example coming from album closer ‘Levitation Above Borders’ (truly a statement for our times despite having wordless vocals). The track slowly builds up with each synth pattern and each vocal line layering and harmonising upon each other. It’s hard to hear these harmonies or the chiming, reverberating basis of ‘Wild Creature and Wizard’ and not imagine dream sequences.

And some of the magic might be playing on nostalgia. ‘Time Capsule’ in particular brings back memories of Koji Kondo’s compositions in the Super Mario Bros 3 video game. It may not resonate with everyone, but the digital quality of the song will have a warm familiarity for anyone who ever cleared a level in that game.

Part of the emotional lightness of the songs comes from a lack of musical density. It’s possible to dissect each line, each loop, and find the individual parts of the songs. Songs that could have a melancholy connotation aren’t explicitly so because it’s possible to navigate the different components of the them. Shtreis’ vocals are a part of that same fabric, and though she plays with her range and timbre, there is a reassuring steadiness to it.

Though this is her debut album under her own name, and her debut full length, Shtreis is not a new artist. She previously released several EPs of ambient folk under the name Miss Naivety. Ether marks a more experimental move in her work, playing more with texture and composition and testing the full potential of her vocals.

Some knowledge of her previous work, however, does help to account for the outlier on the album, ‘Rainbow in Your Porthole’. With it’s sparsely strummed acoustic guitar – the only guitar on the album – and softer vocals without any overdubbing, it feels more closely connect to her previous project, while choppy tape loop vocals running throughout the track keep the song tethered to her current musical world. And it seems the world where she’s chosen to reside is delightfully, ever-so-slightly weird.