Sóley Stefánsdóttir was born in Hafnarfjörður, a small town just outside Reykjavík, Iceland but she now lives in said Capital. A singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer, she created every note on her second full-length album, Ask The Deep, herself. As a child, she studied jazz piano. Later, she attended the Icelandic Art Academy, where she studied composition and became a masterful guitarist and pianist. The piano especially dominates this, her new album, although multiple other instruments appear on the record as well as lots of moody electronic sounds.
The keyword here is dark. The album cover is eerie if not downright disturbing, showing Sóley’s face apparently falling apart, her skin bleeding away into the air above her. Clearly, she isn’t quite herself and that’s a theme that rings true throughout the album. “Have I danced with the devil,” she asks at the beginning of opener Devil, her ethereal vocals floating above chilling piano. A bit later she sings, “If my mind is the devil / I will have to leave,” wondering aloud if she might be possessed. She continues to ask this question once the sonorous percussion kicks in and takes over the mix, the drums feeling like a veritable attack. You’ll probably find yourself asking what genre this is. It’s not a question that one could give a specific answer to. You’d probably have to use the broad singer/songwriter category, though the album sounds very far-removed from what singer/songwriter music normally sounds like. There are no acoustic folk songs here. This is music that brutally murders acoustic folk songs.
“You are going down / Do you wonder / Is there anyone to look for you,” Sóley sings during “Ævintýr,” which begins with the sound of what sounds like bongos and little percussive sounds that come across like footsteps. It’s slightly freaky, but her vocals here prove to be a proverbial light in the darkness, tying together the dark synth, frantic percussion and minimal guitar perfectly. At times the sound here is almost minimalist but layers and layers of sound are employed throughout the song’s middle, which comes across like an audible nervous breakdown. Or perhaps she’s already had the nervous breakdown and now she’s talking back to her therapist.
Rattling sounds begin “Halloween,” though they’re soon joined by eerie synth, which sounds like something you would have heard in John Carpenter’s film of the same name. It’s frightening, to be sure. “Shadows open up your eyes,” she sings, as if spinning a cautionary tale, which is something the entire album could be summed up as. It’s as though she’s saying, if you dance with the devil you’re going to lose and this is what that feels like. Although it’s often beautiful, Ask the Deep sounds like it comes from down below, deep in hell, the music as captivating as the place itself. If you’re one to embrace the darkness, the album will feel like home. Otherwise, prepare to be afraid.