Zoë Keating burst on the scene in the century’s first decade. As a “one woman cello orchestra,” she had a distinctive sound and look, perfectly positioned to cross over. But after her well-received 2010 album Into the Trees, her output stopped. Save for a collaborative 7-inch, any new music was heard only on tour.
It’s a great surprise (and to her fans, a relief) to finally encounter a new release. Granted, it’s a short one (four tracks, 17 minutes), but the EP produces a larger impact than its running time: it proclaims that Keating is still vibrant, still relevant. Keating describes the EP as “four songs from the end of a long winter,” and we can’t help but think that this particular winter lasted eight years. Strangely, the tracks are listed in a different order on Bandcamp and iTunes, but apart from that, everything runs smoothly. “Icefloe” eases the listener back into Keating’s sound: as many as 16 layers of cello, a grand mulch of melody and harmony that suggests the stasis of its title. Only in the final seconds does the floe begin to melt. (For this reason, we prefer this as the opening track.) Then comes the album highlight, “Forte,” which starts as sweetly as a fond memory before introducing a staccato tempo at 00:35. The full bloom is teased at 1:23, and returns a minute later, accompanied by a heartwarming counter-melody. As Keating fan Claire writes, “This music makes me feel glad to be alive.”
“Possible” continues the upbeat vibe with a propulsive three-note undercurrent, atop which Keating lays melodies of varying speeds. Late in the track, the notes slow for reflection before resuming their pace ~ much like the performer. This leaves only the surprising “Nix,” to which Keating adds lullaby chimes, making the track seem more like winter than the others. To nix is to end, and one is left with the feeling that Keating may have emerged from the hibernation of a long emotional winter to a world bursting with compositional color. (Richard Allen)