9 by Elaine Lachica (Review)

The heart and soul of Lachica’s music draws from 4AD’s glory days.

Elaine Lachica describes her music as ​“Alternative-Soul Ethereal Electro-Acoustic Soundscapes.” Normally, I’m not a huge fan of self-descriptions that employ an endless string of adjectives and hyphens. But in 9s case, I’m more than prepared to make an exception, not just because the description is fairly accurate but also because the music is so enchanting.

It’s possible to hear strains of other chanteuses such as Tori Amos and Julee Cruise throughout this album’s nine tracks. However, such comparisons scratch the surface, drawing more from Lachica’s powerful and dramatic vocals. However, the heart and soul of Lachica’s music draws from 4AD’s glory days, when bands like Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, and This Mortal Coil dominated the ethereal landscape, releasing album after album of atmosphere, drama, and melancholia.

However, unlike bands that attempt to duplicate the classic 4AD sound with one too many effects pedals or by punching up the reverb on the vocals to obscene levels, Lachica tends to bring a more refined approach to her music. This no doubt stems from Lachica’s training at the Peabody Conservatory of Music where she studied classical voice.

Although the music is always lovely, consisting of lush piano melodies, subtle guitar-work, and cascading synths, it’s Lachica’s voice that weaves it all together. Nearly every track is a spotlight for her considerable talents as a vocalist. The opening track consists of layer upon layer of Lachica’s voice circling, like a cloud of ghosts, over shapeless guitar tones and tinkling glass noises (imagine lovesliescrushing with the lo-fi haze brushed aside, or at least toned down). It quickly sets the mood of the entire a CD, a mood that is almost never disturbed.

Over its 6 1/2-minute length, ​“The Door” feels like a reincarnation of the Cocteau Twin’s classic Victorialand album. More of Lachica’s effortless vocals, this time anchored by a sparse bassline and a rolling stream of piano. And yet somehow, the track feels much more than that, probably because echoes of Lachica’s voice sound out somewhere within the track’s perimeter.

Not surprisingly, the lyrics are all fairly romantic and lush in their imagery. Lines like ​“Kindness opens up her wings/​Hold me through these sighs and things” (“Garlands Racing”) and ​“Anguish in the breathlessness of desire/​I loved you then, I love you still” (“In This Wilderness”) get bandied about with all seriousness. Combine that with the music, and I’m surprised that labels like Projekt aren’t beating down Lachica’s door. Indeed, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Lachica turned up someday as a guest vocalist for, say, Black Tape for a Blue Girl.

I certainly have high hopes for Lachica’s next album. 9 whets the appetite, but it has a few shortcomings that pop up after many (and I mean many) listens. At times, the album’s production sounds a little muddy, with things blending a little more than they should. Of course, given the album’s atmospheric sound, that’s to be expected, but it is a fine line. Furthermore, some of the compositions just seem, well, a little on the simplistic side, with the shorter tracks feeling more like sketches of songs.

I find myself enjoying the album’s longer tracks, such as ​“Varuna” and ​“The Door,” simply because they feel more spread out, like they’ve been given more time to breathe and develop. I’d challenge Lachica to just continue getting more ambitious in her songwriting; 9 proves that she’s already got a solid foundation on which to build. The thirty-five minutes I’ve heard so far have held me — and friends who’ve also heard them — under their spell for some time, and these days, that says a heckuva lot.