At a time when many of us are contemplating the impact of grief, the long-awaited release of Aleah Starbridge’s solo album seems almost unbearably poignant. Lovingly completed by the late singer’s partner, Swallow The Sun’s Juha Raivio, Aleah feels like the final piece of the musical jigsaw that began with the posthumous release of Trees Of Eternity’s sole album, Hour of The Nightingale, in 2017, a year after the singer’s passing. For Raivio’s own feelings on his lost love, those with a robust constitution should listen to Swallow The Sun’s truly harrowing Lumina Aurea. But it’s this bewitching showcase for a cruelly thwarted talent that arguably packs the heftiest punch.
The fact is, Starbridge’s voice was simply magical; often barely more than a spectral whisper, but always vulnerable, believable and graceful, it takes centre stage throughout Aleah’s two-part, 86-minute duration. The first half is all acoustic and, at times, agonisingly intimate. Any sense that these are unfinished demos has been glossed deftly away by Raivio, but the stripped-down, skeletal and dream-like feel of these simple, elegant songs remains, adding a layer of unnerving ghostliness in the process. My Will, Breathe and Touch My Face are all spellbinding, with Starbridge the icy but divine embodiment of melancholy.
The second half of Aleah is a fulsome plunge into sonic lushness. Beginning with a fully realised, electric rendition of My Will, these six songs surely represent the blossoming of Starbridge’s identity as a solo artist, not long before she was cruelly taken from her loved ones aged only 39. With superficial shades of shoegaze and dream pop, Inverted Enlightenment builds at a glacial pace, eventually erupting into a sublime, orchestral crescendo, while Vapour’s eight minutes of surging drones, post-rock squall and white-knuckle tension should haunt the dreams of all who hear it. All told, Aleah is a beautifully curated tribute to an extraordinary talent.
Aleah is released on July 31. Pre-order it now