The only way out of this is listening to Eartheater’s latest album

Monday, October 12, 2020 - 1:14pm

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The song “The only way out of this is through” opens and closes the newest album by Alexandra Drewchin, better known as Eartheater: Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin. A surrender to vulnerability echoes itself through all 13 songs. Drewchin’s voice guides us from the underbelly of her heart through the album, with haunting instrumentals paired with stunning lyrics, like on “Below the Clavicle” and “Volcano.” These tracks seem to be the core of the album, guiding the introspective and rebirth-centric theme.

Eartheater said about one of the singles from the album, “I wrote ‘Below the Clavicle’ when I was waiting to understand more about a situation before talking about it — when the meaning was still below the clavicle and hadn’t made it up to my head yet. The understanding was still underground, forging in my heart and gut.” She continues, “In my upcoming album, I thought a lot about lava and volcanoes and the formation of stone and mountains.” The album does not play with this volcanic theme passively, but rather the motifs of fire and formation subtly rise, almost going unnoticed, until listening a few times through. It’s a gorgeous alt-folk experimental piece to lead us through October.

The album was composed and recorded over a 10-week period, during an artists’ residency for FUGA in Zaragoza, Spain. Though we find ourselves in isolation for health and safety purposes, the seclusive elements of the residency pierce through the album. Phoenix features collaborations of strings from the Ensemble de Camara, harp, violin from her friends and other mossy finishes.

Eartheater continues with the earthy themes found on her last record, Trinity, which reflected on the three states of matter. Phoenix stands in contrast with some of her past work —  it’s more stripped down and subtle compared to her typical overload and maximalism. However, it hits the perfect symmetry of the queer pop of her earlier projects and the decadent songwriting she’s perfected throughout the years. On a track like “How to Fight,” Drewchin reveals in only 3 minutes and 32 seconds the lessons she’s learned that lead to her own resurrection like a phoenix, all over beautiful guitar work and slightly destructed through reverb. The phoenix is a mythical bird symbolizing rebirth, resurrection and hope. Drewchin embodies this not only in the physicality of the album, with red boney wings sprouting out of her back and fire rising from beneath her ass, but also in the lyrics and sounds.

“Kiss of the Phoenix” experiments with what Drewchin’s phoenix would sound like, shrieking sensually and with love. The track utilizes two of the most vivid elements of the album: strings and vocals. The two intertwine and pass through filters and glitch, leaving us with what feels like the titular phoenix kiss. The instrumental tracks highlight Drewchin’s strength in crafting paradoxical textures, loud and quiet, harsh and soft, all at the same time.

“Volcano,” the centerpiece track is a perfect example of a dream-pop song, and in another life, it was a ’90s hit on a playlist with Bjork and Portishead. The track features stripped guitar, a glacial piano and the haunting melodies of her lower register with building lyrics that set the fire free: “I’m obsessed with this grain of salt / I’m fixated on a grain of sand / I’m yearning for a speck of sugar / I guess I’ll take what I can.” The simple yet compelling songwriting, paired with the sound elements, creates nothing short of an iconic track.

This album embodies the paradoxes of Eartheater style, revealing formations of stone and lava bubbling, only to explode itself in its deep introspection and jarring instrumentals. Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin is Eartheater’s best album yet, and perhaps one of the most iconic albums of this year.

Daily Arts Writer Katy Trame can be reached at krtrame@umich.edu.

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