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Tiny Pilots Zara Hedderman , November 17th, 2023 09:42

VÄLVĒ's second record takes inspiration from daydreams and adventures to produce a record at once soothing and startling, finds Zara Hedderman

To explore Tiny Pilots, the second LP from Chlöe Herington and Emma Sullivan as VÄLVĒ, is to exist within a dreamlike world or state. Across the ten tracks, we’re presented with predominantly warm and whimsical soundscapes, sometimes detailed with field recordings of birdsong or heavenly harp melodies whilst also being confronted with darker, if not alarming, moments to reflect not only the realities of everyday life but how our imagination cannot be relied upon to protect us from harm. On the album’s enchanting opening song, ‘Delicate Engines’, a gorgeous motif akin to that featured in Broadcast’s ‘I Found The F’ cascades as the central refrain resonates: “I think I dreamt it / And I’m telling you my dream / And you should stop me before I ruin your engines / Before I ruin your delicate engines”.

Inspired by Keith Ridgway’s 2006 novel Animals, Herington explained how that text along with revisiting The Little Prince inspired the writing of that song and the album by inserting “the idea of a tiny pilot inside us that goes off on adventures when we daydream”. Certainly, this album provides many instances to indulge in “cosmic escape” and “whispers of a magical land” and in bringing form as well as a sense of realism to the album’s narrative foundation, VÄLVĒ effectively details the sonic scenery with restorative recordings of water and birds on the aforementioned opener and ‘Lights (sparkled)’. However, the duo aren’t at all over-protective of the peaceful spaces they create for listeners. On ‘The Hot House’, they demonstrate how they are capable of disrupting the serenity with the intense buzz of a bee or “falling down a very deep well” as the protagonist of Alice In Wonderland due to not giving her actions any thought on the captivating ‘Red Moon Rising’.

The more experimental and instrumentally-focused compositions – ‘The Ice House (revisited)’, ‘Atmos #4’ and ‘B612’ – are amongst some of the highlights of the album in demonstrating their dexterity as songwriters and players. The unsettling air of those moments, along with ‘Gertrude’s List’, do well to build up to the album’s lasting opus. ‘Perfumes of Arabia’, a cover of Maggie Holland’s anti-war song inspired by the Gulf War, is an extraordinary and prescient way to close the album. Where previously on the album, we’re presented with pretty textures, the safety of repetitive rhythms and New Age-like meditations, ‘Perfumes of Arabia’ immerses us in a waking nightmare. Against the harrowing currents of harmonium and a narrative device of recounting what’s been relayed on a radio report, we’re presented with the heart-breaking image of a “mother weeping with a dead child on her knee” in a setting where the “sands are full of corpses / and the wells are full of blood.” Its impact is long-lasting and serves as a powerful parting message.

Tiny Pilots perfectly treads between chaos and tranquility on a body of work that is soothing and startling. Intricately detailed and masterfully produced, these ten songs contain great imagination and artistic vision.