Lucy Roleff, a classically trained songstress, hails from Melbourne (Australia). The legend on her website is intriguing and reads thus: “Born to a German Opera singer father and Maltese mother, she spent a childhood steeped in ornate European classical music, storytelling and folk styles.” Her own music inhabits an acoustic world of a different, though parallel, kind of intimacy, whereby she may be perceived as taking the classical concept of Lieder forward into the arguably equally rarefied province of the folk chanteuse. Her songs are intimate and carefully considered jewel-like creations that are pitched somewhere between hauntingly intense and beautifully serene, starkly and precisely scored yet on occasion surprisingly elusive. The music seems almost to spring naturally out of the ether itself, wispy and delicate, and Lucy’s voice is airy and light, almost inseparable from that atmosphere, and yet not without its darker shades. Its sensory impact is tangible, and the images conjured are reflected in the various videos Lucy‘s had made to accompany the songs; the visual element of which is customarily directed by Alex Badham, who it turns out has worked with Lucy in an electro-pop band and is thus very much in tune with her artistic vision.
This Paradise is the full-length album follow-up to Lucy’s earlier (debut) EP Longbows, which came out in 2013; she’d released two singles in between – Aspen and Every Time – and both tracks appear on This Paradise, sounding well in the context of the complete album. The sessions for This Paradise took place in Tony Dupé’s home studio in a church in South Gippsland, and the result is highly atmospheric with a strong sonic identity. Lucy’s ethereally poised singing voice is placed within a generously minimalist setting that surrounds her own nylon-strung guitar (and occasional harp, flute or piano) with an almost otherworldly yet very much present texture that encompasses deft brush-strokes from cello, double-bass, violin, sax, clarinet, electric guitar and cymbals and subtle washes from a pump organ and bowed glockenspiel. Some unusual sounds there, but these are sparingly and convincingly used to augment and echo the ingenious, singular and somewhat unorthodox nature of Lucy’s lyrics – much as they may explore the minutiae of everyday occurrences and universal themes of tender longing.
The songs’ conjured images, like their melodic lines, tend to drift as they flow, very often in unexpected directions and with an underlying sense of unease. Aspen possesses the melancholy of Nick Drake, and its fractured imagery is delivered with a husky, glacial fragility that quite strongly recalls Nico; the following song, Haus, continues this mood of hushed, sinister foreboding and overloads its overtones of death in a nightmarish, dreamy soundscape. Hotel Interstate increases the momentum in an uncertain blend of folk-baroque and brittle scoring. This Paradise belies its elysian title with a tentative chord progression that may or may not signify half-expressed unrequited love. On songs such as Chasing The Dog, Lucy seems to take on the quietly voiced confidentiality and limpid serenity of Bridget St. John, while at other times (e.g., the airy How Will I Get That High?) there’s something of the cool purity and carefree register-leaping of Joni Mitchell.
Overall, once you become accustomed to the weaving nuances and the delicate individuality of Lucy’s music the rewards are considerable.
This Paradise is out now on Lost and Lonesome
Available via Bandcamp (Digital | CD | Vinyl): lucyroleff.bandcamp.com/album/this-paradise