Transformation is a concept conveyed in the new third record from Athens-born Stella Chronopoulou – known musically under the hard-to-Google moniker Σtella. With her first two records being released only inside her native Greece, The Break is her first international LP and could transform or give her a big “break” in her career. There are other references to transformation throughout a record, from the quirky record sleeve to the lyrics – that admittedly leave a lot to be desired as they can be lazy and repetitive – in a jangly-electro-pop album which is consistently fun, is reminiscent of many ambitious pop artists that think outside the box and has irresistible replay value.
The record begins with instrumental ‘Bellaria’, it’s the kind of ode to computer game soundtracks that M83 could have included on last year’s DSVII (Digital Shades Vol. II). It’s mystical, innocent and full of wonder. In this way it’s befitting of an a fantasy adventure series. It’s also a great introduction to Σtella’s music – breathy humming echoing around shiny enjoyable synth, surprising percussive layers (this time a vibraslap) and a jangly guitar to give an indie pop edge – and soundtracks Σtella beginning her latest career and spiritual transformation.
At the other end of the record is the equally meditative finale ‘The World Is Big’, sounding like a lost track from Goldfrapp’s Silver Eye, it features a shimmer that oscillates in and out like a beach tide and wraps around the listener. The majority of the tracks in between are just as exciting.
‘The Race’, is a smile-inducing memorable little gem. Although the pace is not quite as fast as Yello’s namesake, the whistling loop, Django Django wooden rhythm and Farao-like glowing synth give a travelling motion to the electro-pop delight. The music video is seemingly a nod to sport enthusiasts tirelessly transforming themselves in top Olympic athletes. It could be a reference also to Σtella’s Greek heritage, as she also honours this in the video and musical style in the Greek-Doctor Who ‘Forest’. While the lyrics could be also be interpreted as a desire to run away from the rat race of life: “We can search for a place. Far from the heavens, away from the race. All of the plans and the promises made.”
With ‘The Race’ being included, quite a few tracks on The Break, mention “rivers”. Perhaps it’s the idea that a river constantly changes shape and evolves. The track called ‘The River’ itself, describes it as a magical place where “everyone’s soul is free” and “bring your desires, they will soon multiply”. Although the track’s simple music dilutes its slightly surreal topic, it’s one of many of tracks that wonderfully sounds inspired by the exotic world pop nature of Paul Simon’s Graceland.
‘Simon Says’ – which features the line “everything has changed but I feel the same” to reflect that fact we are always evolving our identity, sometimes without knowing it – is the first of of many nods to Lonelady’s brand of post-punk, steady beats and anti-chorus construction. Something that’s also heard on the title-track ‘The Break’, which pairs it with reverberating whoops of the already-mentioned Django Django and the happy new wave of The Thompson Twins’ ‘Doctor Doctor’. Admittedly it probably contains one of the worst lyrics on the record: “load and release like a gun that can’t find peace.”
Personal favourite ‘Numeró’ merges both the Paul Simon’s tribal ambience and Lonelady post-punk with an Imogen Heap vocal expression and foreign language words to create a special standout track. It also brings back the computer game vibe from the opening track but this time sounding like a medieval series. It has a funny story behind it too. The song was inspired by a time when Σtella was partying at night in Paris and wanted to ask for a guy’s phone number in French.
‘Cherry’ and ‘Sleeping Separate’ are the only yawning moments on an otherwise engaging album but the former seems to fit in the album’s theme of transformation alluding to the awakening of losing one’s virginity: “Since I popped the cherry and I’m way ordinary.” Although that is another example of the lyrics being particularly weak, it’s worth praising the great writing on tracks such as ‘Monster’ and ‘I’m Alone’. The former which is about resisting the temptation to unleash your inner demons, therefore undergoing an unwanted metamorphosis, compliments the song’s composition very well as chirpy pop attempts to cage the ghostly atmosphere lurking within. Furthermore, the romantic sarcasm on ‘I’m Alone’ is particularly fun and sounds like Patty Donahue of The Waitresses.
Σtella’s latest album cover features an anthropomorphic portrait of herself showcasing wings and travelling between two dimensions in a Stargate-style. With a record as enjoyable as this, it isn’t outside the realms of possibility that she could become a breakthrough star soon.