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Maya Shenfeld
Under the Sun Ian Opolot , February 20th, 2024 10:02

Backed by the Ritter Youth Choir and the organ of St Matthew’s Church in Berlin, the latest from Maya Shenfeld creates an exquisitely-crafted ambiance, finds Ian Opolot

I am of the firm belief that the opening track, whether it be an instrumental, skit or song, will tell you whether the ensuing album is going to profoundly move you or not. Maya Shenfeld’s Under The Sun is ambient at its core yet contains tonal fluctuations in ways that push the listener to question every aspect of the environment that surrounds them, or even the reality in which they experience (or believe they experience).

The album is a mirage that is every bit dazzling, piercing (at times haunting) in its use of synthesisers, organs and the distant-memory-like sound of the Ritter Youth Choir. It’s as if Shenfeld seeks to communicate something she has seen that ‘ordinary folk’ happen to be blissfully unaware of through Under the Sun. It’s an evocative existential querying of the here and now, whilst also communicating a desire for a better tomorrow. Under the Sun paints a landscape true of its nature, and not the one(s) we fanatically conjure for the benefit of self-interests, or even self-preservation.

‘A Guide for the perplexed’ is a fitting title for the opener. It is unmistakeably foreboding, either pointing to an impending sense of doom or encapsulating our current state of living. Organ chords from St Matthew’s Church are siren-like at the very genesis, incrementally increasing in pitch in and amongst the repetitions. There is something that grows nearer that can no longer be ignored. What threatens to arrive? Will it ever arrive? It is prolonged, perhaps communicating a drawn-out, ever-present angst in association with these existential queries. Like birds of the same feather, ‘Tehom’ and ‘Geist’ are bullishly similar in their exploration of the unknown though the former is heavily industrial in its composition, riddled with the drilling sounds of clanging metal and unidentifiable industrial soundbites that suggest an environment succumbed to a post-apocalyptic reality. Perhaps this is the uncomfortable feeling of “the pursuit of meaning amidst change and uncertainty” that Shenfeld refers to in the press release.

There is a beautifully dramatic tonal shift in ‘Light, Refracted’ as the distantly angelic (at times absurdly haunting) Ritter Youth Choir enter the fray. Transient voices, as if that of a different realm, erupt before yielding to drone-like synth chords that heighten anxiety. Neither welcoming nor shunning away, bathing you like the icy moonlight (perhaps hope, if you are glass half-full). Such feelings of uncertainty persist throughout the record until its climax, ‘Analemma’. The Ritter Youth Choir return with vocals higher in tone, akin to hope, again meddling with our idea of time, as if drifting into our existence from another in seraphic tones. Shenfeld’s ongoing proximity to drone synth chords is evident again, in its harshness emanating the difficulty of change with a glimmer of some future reprieve.

Throughout Under the Sun, Shenfeld seeks a metaphysical metamorphosis in the minds of the listeners. She seeks to forge her own in attempts to discard what currently is, in favour of what could be. Under the Sun is well crafted, interrogating the listener and experimental where it needs to be, gifting you with something to gain throughout.