Serafina Steer

The Mind is a Trap

Bas Jan's Serafina Steer delivers a unique and multifaceted solo album, finds Tom Bolton

Serafina Steer, whose sharp, harp-based modern folk albums have drawn admiration, was most recently seen in Bas Jan with Rachel Horwood and Emma Smith. Their 2018 album, Yes I Jan, was a funny and fragile account of precarious city life, with occasional day trips to the coast. It felt fresh and honest, and Steer’s follow-up solo album has many of the same qualities. Her lyrics are direct and open, and the electronic harp and synthesisers create a sound that is delicate and exposed. But The Mind is a Trap is full of surprises, ranging across styles and opening the sonic possibilities up wide.

From the ambient shimmer of opener ‘Whatsmystone’, the album experiments with electronics and composition. ‘Lapse’ is a soundscape of squeak, rattle and buzz, and ‘Say What You See’ is a classically influenced harp piece with stately melodies that are rather like North Sea Radio Orchestra. Atmospheric instrumental tracks open up space around songs that are apparently about Steer herself, written in a confessional tone. ‘Provides Common Ground’ has a bouncy tune and a yearning melancholy reminiscent of early Saint Etienne. ‘Auto’ is a sad exploration of self-doubt, spoken over a gentle piano with both humour and a coruscating level of honesty. ‘The Mind is a Trap’, a stuttering, tuneful song about demons in the head, has Pet Shop Boys qualities.

While the influences are broad, Steer’s music is unmistakably her own. She works confidently, mixing styles to shape an album that is clever, varied and full of creativity. Songs such as ‘Back on the Scene’, with drum machine, synths and vocal samples and ‘This is My Emotion’, which enters banger territory, show how she can express herself through the medium of the sci-fi instrumental as well as more traditional song forms. The harp is there, but as part of an electronic soundscape where it fits neatly. The Mind is a Trap is a versatile work that shows just how many ideas are buzzing around Steer’s head, and how good she is at capturing them and turning them into fragile songs which carry their own perfection.

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