“It ought to be heart-shattering; but instead, it feels full of hope… absolutely gorgeous”: Marjana Semkina’s Sirin

Iamthemorning vocalist brings light to the dark in second solo album

Marjana Semkina - Sirin
(Image: © Marjana Semkina)

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When Iamthemorning’s Russian-born, UK-based singer Marjana Semkina launched a crowdfunding campaign to manufacture physical copies of her second solo album, she spoke of excitement, terror and existential dread.

The nervousness was understandable, having spent years working on a product without knowing if people would pay over the odds to receive it: £50 for a vinyl album is a lot, even if it does come “laced with gold leaf.”

She needn’t have worried. The project trended on Kickstarter, secured 90 percent funding within 12 hours, and reached its target within the next 12. Sirin rewards that faith. It’s a beautiful album.

We Are The Ocean opens with a jauntiness that belies its subject matter, Russia’s ongoing attacks on Ukraine. Rather than strike a note of despair, it’s upbeat and spirited, reflecting the way her friends have united to protest the invasion, sometimes at great personal risk (Iamthemorning bandmate Gleb Kolyadin was arrested in Thailand and faced deportation to Russia as a political dissident). Throw in a deliriously slippery, Steve Vai-esque guitar solo from Vlad Avy, and the result is a song that’s very much at odds with the sum of its parts.

Instrumental passages slowly unfurl rather than announce themselves at the door

So far, so Marjana. The prettiness of her voice has always been a soothing balm applied to painful subject matter – death, arson, pain, suffering, poison, more death, etc – and Sirin is no different. Take Gone: with mournful cello parts entwining at the off and sorrowful piano accompanying the refrain, ‘They’re gone, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone,’ it ought to be heart-shattering; but instead, it feels full of hope. Whether this is intended or not is probably moot, especially when it works this well.

Marjana’s not alone here. On Death And The Maiden (more death!) she’s joined by Mick Moss from progressive gothic rockers Antimatter, the gruffness of his voice a counterbalance to her sweetness; and there’s a real warmth to the passages they sing together.

Even better is Anything But Sleep, a duet with Caligula’s Horse vocalist Jim Grey. It’s a lovely balance of ambience and atmosphere – a song that drifts into being, the two voices snaking like fingers of mist.

So much of the album is like this, with instrumental passages that slowly unfurl rather than announce themselves at the door; like Pygmalion, which reaches its brief climax via a series of stop-start manoeuvres that might be confusing if they weren’t so exquisitely choreographed; and the closing This Silence This Dreaming, which pits Marjana’s voice against deft and dainty backing. Absolutely gorgeous.

Sirin is on sale now.

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.