Olivia Belli has risen from farmhouse composer to international star, but her music remains as intimate as the rising sun over the mountains. The intimacy is present in her video singles, which often portray her alone at the piano. Sol Novo was announced in spring, and each month a new single has emerged, shining a light on a different facet of the overall project.
The album’s title can mean New Sun or New Day, and reflects Belli’s favorite time to compose. The children may still be sleeping as the sun sneaks over the fields on one side of her farmhouse and the sea on the other. This sounds like an incredible place to live. Morning brings reflectiveness and a sense of serenity, conveyed through tender pieces. Metaphorically, the world is also waiting for a new day: hoping to land on a shore of relative peace and security, removed from lockdown and isolation, acrimony and war.
The composer offers a humble serving of hope, a solace to the bereaved, a balm to the anxious, embedded in the patterns of the day. By bracketing the album with “Sol Novo” and “The Light Remains,” she tells an instrumental tale of wandering and coming home. Nature is a constant presence on the album, as it is in her life: moon, island, sea. This being said, the album contains only one true dark note, the closing pound of “Fingers, Be Rain,” heavy on the ivory like a loss, although in the video it comes across as a sense of completion following a downpour of notes.
The amplification of strings brings certain tracks to an even higher level, beginning with the title track and culminating in the exquisite “Grembo” and bright closer “The Light Returns.” In both “Island” tracks, they offer soft support, while on “Bilico” the timbre gains cinematic traction.
The title “As I Was” is open to interpretation. Is Belli mourning a bygone phase of her own life, or speaking for the rest of us as she laments the way things were, and we were, once upon a time, two years ago or at some other point? Is she claiming a modicum of victory, proclaiming that she has located the hidden part of herself, reunited time and joy? The video portrays the changing of the seasons, conveying an abject calm, implying the acceptance of emotional and spiritual cycles. Sequentially, the piece lies between “Bleak” and “The Light Endures,” so one receives it as a connecting piece, a middle rung on Jacob’s ladder.
Whatever anxieties keep us awake, whatever terrors strike in the night will seem different in the glow of a new sunrise. By personifying the sun on Sol Novo, Belli sends currents of light through fingers of rain. (Richard Allen)
Sony XXIM (Release date 8 October)