Ophelia, comprised of Sam Taylor and Rebecca Van Cleave, who were chosen as one of our Sounds of 2018 – and for good reason – release their debut album this week, and what a treat it is! In fact, I might even go as far as to say that Blackbox Memories will go down as one of the most sublime albums – let alone a debut – of the year, if not ever. The tracks sound carefully selected and arranged from the opening track ‘Let Love Ride In’ with its late sunshine open-top car ride along the coast vibe. It’s not quite the time of year or the season for testing that out, but you can imagine it in the meantime. Appearing to channel her inner early Cher with perhaps a touch more sweetness and less overt sexuality, while being no less bold, Van Cleave confidently strides in with ‘From The Ashes’, a sharp and steady easy rhythm and spot-on vocal harmonies in the chorus. ‘Bittersweet’, especially after following the honey-dipped ‘From The Ashes’, this time with Taylor on lead vocals certainly lives up to its name. ‘The Artist’ sends things off in yet another direction; slow and waltzing around a dusty faded ballroom in muted candlelight, ghostly but elegant and enchanting.
Ophelia are anything but predictable, though they are blatantly cut from the same cloth. Taylor and Van Cleave complement each other beautifully, and it shows throughout the whole album. While you can hear their influences clearly, you can also see the ways in which they’ve managed to combine them with their own originality and creativity to make something completely other.
‘A Little Too Late’ is yet another direction, this time the view races towards you, back in the same frame of mind of the opening track in that it feels exactly like a road trip, windows down and all. Upbeat and sunny, it’s even more confident than anything before it. The boozy swagger of ‘I Can’t Dream About You Anymore’ is an unexpected twist with its moody stomp telling another tale in a drunken haze, a little hint of anger or resentment creeping in. The title track is still drinking, only now it’s serious, the anger almost gone and the tone has changed to mature introspection. ‘I Can See Your Heart’ sees Taylor’s vocals take on more of a Marc Bolan-like quality, while ‘Underneath The Pines’ echoes the bright melodies of Belinda Carlisle.
Unexpectedly, the album’s volta occurs with penultimate track ‘Fading’, with an Americana-Folk inflected introduction and opening verse; but then it gradually transforms into something glorious, sweeping melodies blend into one another, before dropping right back – briefly – to the sparse folk-like tone it began with. The album closes on ‘I Just Want To Let You Know’, a heartfelt country-like ballad, complete with harmonica and laced with a bit of The Carpenters for good measure, worthy of that final dance with the person you’ve had your eye on all evening. Blackbox Memories is a beautiful album, one that can be played while watching the flames flicker in the fireplace and wrapped in a blanket, or dancing around the campfire. Whatever happens and whoever you are, there’ll be a time and a place for this album and Ophelia in your life.
Blackbox Memories is released on 26th January through Troubadour Songs.