In Alex Garland’s ‘Annihilation’, a phenomenon called The Shimmer subjects everything with which it comes into contact – sound, light, matter, even animal and plant DNA – to a process of radical mutation, scrambling the workaday world to into strange and mysterious new shapes (think J.G Ballard’s ‘The Crystal World’ relocated to Tarkovsky’s Zone). Across three compelling releases, Delphine Dora and Sophie Cooper have exerted a similar influence on conventional song craft, blending folkish forms with avant-garde techniques and adding their own idiosyncratic viewpoint to create a spellbinding and disconcerting body of work.
Dora and Cooper’s debut, 2015’s ‘Distance, Future’ was a light-drenched wonder, in which organ and trombone wound subtle tendrils around their beatific hymnals. The follow-up, 2017’s ‘Think Away’, reduced the scale, replacing broad washes of texture with finely-wrought details, to entrancing effect. ‘Divine Ekstasys’ synthesizes these two perspectives, carving taut, abstract scrapes across melancholy ballads and decorating languid, seismic drones with enigmatic, melodic curlicues.
A similar palette to those previous releases is at work here – the duo’s voices, often manifested in wordless mantras and chants, as well as trombones, synths and piano. But these ingredients are deployed with expertise and discernment to produce dense, tangy soundscapes that open new worlds of sonic possibility. The mood is sombre, drugged almost – swooning calls and eerie twinkles float above ominous rumbles and slow-moving, foreboding chord progressions.
‘Divine Ekstasys’ consists mainly of two song cycles – ‘Invisible Gesture’ and ‘Sublime Gesture’ – topped and tailed by a pair of shorter pieces. The two ‘Gesture’ suites aren’t quite yin and yang, both deploying enough wide-eyed alarm and cacophonous musicking to frighten a stableful of horses. That said, the three parts of ‘Sublime Gesture’ definitely square up to the lofty transports hinted at by their title, with part II in particular nailing a mix of wonder and terror with enough gusto to have any nearby Romantic poets running for the laudanum. Foghorn-style trombone blasts resolve themselves into gleaming sci-fi drones, punctuated by a percussive thumping that wouldn’t be out of place in a haunted house and accompanied by voices chanting reverberant litanies.
If the blessings of ‘Sublime Gesture’ are ambiguous, ‘Invisible Gesture’ casts its gaze firmly on the underworld. Its four parts feel like a descent, the eerie scene setting of parts I and II shifting into the daemonic dissonance of part III, whose chorus of banshee howls summons a saturated wave of distortion that sweeps everything into its tumult. By ‘Invisible Gesture IV’ we’re in the realms of proper frightfest melodrama. Circling harpsichord-like synth motifs skitter aroud like the demented organ jams of a dilettante scientist whose off-curriculum investigations into the secrets of eternal life have led them into the very depths of immorality. Lightning strikes over the turrets of the castle. It’s alive!