The unique temptation of, and rebellion by the feminine has long been analogous to the concept of “forbidden fruit” in both ancient myths and Abrahamic religions – Christianity has Eve and her apple, and Greek mythology has the bittersweet story of Persephone and her pomegranate seeds. It’s a curious and layered association which experimental pop virtuoso Aphir has unpacked and unpeeled, piece by piece, in her ethereal, aphoristic new concept album ‘Pomegranate Tree’. Conceptually, this offering is a highly personal exploration of her relationship and ultimate departure from the artist’s fiercely religious upbringing. Musically, it’s a fluid, unearthly slow build of an album that interweaves ghostly baroque-style choirs, warm, muffled synths and seemingly endless lines of sweetly pure vocals from the songstress herself. This evokes the sonic equivalent of colours slowly trickling off a watercolour painting in deep space.
Even in Paradise makes for a subtle opener, with oscillating synths and a patchy touch of bass darting in and out until Aphir’s vocal melody, awash with reverb, joins the show. Then layers upon layers of vocal harmonies and spacey synths arrive and almost dance around each other in what sounds like the musical lovechild of Grimes, purity ring and Emilie Autumn. This track works as a natural counterpart to album single Red Giant that follows. Choral work reigns supreme here, and it’s subtly employed as a musical tool to illustrate corruption, starting off pure and harmonious but quickly becoming distorted with delay pulling choral layers apart from each other like unravelling threads.
After a catchy chorus, the track ends on something of a question mark, which is answered by the darkly reflective Advice. This track has more of a medieval, Gregorian-chant, almost tribal flavour with some low, droney strings underscoring moving octave choral harmonies. We have some gut-punching, potent lyrics in this track, such as the opening two lines – “Too many hours of mine are spoiled by the thorn / I would need you less if I liked myself more”. Swelling choral layers and glittering synths right out of a futuristic 80s dance track ramp up the tension, bringing back the modern edge. Second single Rhoda, the most meditative track yet, is completely pared back at first to allow space for powerful lyrics like “I have burned my bridges, I would rather swim / When you shut me out, I had to turn within”. Minimalistic solo vocal sections are contrasted with the more pulsating passages that immediately follow them, with gentle baroque strings and piano underscoring steadily driving synths. Fans of Fleurie’s work will adore this.
Good Enough, oddly melancholy and sparse but for the compelling EDM-laden climax about two minutes in, slides effortlessly along to Books of Number, another quite haunting (and haunted) track. This number utilises Aphir’s favoured neo-Baroque elements of ethereal choral harmonies and a driving musical ostinato in the background behind subtle synths, this time offered by sombre looping piano chords. This track also uses autotune on the lead vocals to great effect. I must say, as someone who is generally not a fan of the abundance of autotune typically added to vocals in pop, I’m impressed by the way Aphir uses it as a tool combined with subtle distortion, so that rather sounding overproduced, her vocals resonate through as like some kind of space angel delivering a divine message from an alternate universe.
Waking feels like a prelude to the most impactful and expansive track so far, Equinox. Strangely soft saw synths create a wall of sound for heavily reverbed choral lines to bounce off, and Aphir gives her strongest vocal performance yet towards the end of the track, soaring into a powerful pop belt that showcases her range. Title track, Pomegranate Tree, follows with soft synths and gently dissonant piano chords providing a backdrop for lyrics that evoke beautiful imagery: “A thousand flowers grow beneath the pomegranate tree / Take their fallen petals when I sleep and cover me”. I’m getting a strong flavour of HANA here with the duelling layers of various different synth patches and dreamy, sweet vocals. The contemplative The Empyrean offers something of an epilogue in the ambiguous way it quietly brings the album to a close and trails off into the ether, like sunlight slowly dissolving into dusk.
‘Pomegranate Tree’ is a haunting, arrestingly beautiful electronica release that is as sweetly refined as it is darkly powerful. This concept album highlights the compositional prowess of its creator, whose ability to construct a complex soundscape of multiple moving parts – synths, choirs, orchestral instruments and more besides – is instinctive and innate. It’s like a delicate ecosystem, with each voice forming part of the whole in a shifting yet ever-present balance. For an emerging artist, Aphir has delivered an impressive record in ‘Pomegranate Tree’, leaving listeners with much to contemplate afterwards, and the fruits of her labour of love are sweet indeed.
‘Pomegranate Tree’ is out now Provenance Records
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With thanks to STAR CROSSED PR