Gorgeous New York-based soul wonder has a psychotropic voice that will sway, stagger and leave you on a potent, heady high: Breaking Good.
Breaking is available at:
The E.P. Sophia Bastian is available at:
COBWEBS have been building up in my mind for a while now...
in part, due to music; and its nesting instincts. For the last couple of weeks, Queens of the Stone Age's latest album has been cemented in my brain and stereo. It is not a shock why. The songs keep on revealing nuances and subtleties I had not picked up on upon the fledgling listens. Being a band that I have been in awe of since the mid-'00s, I have spent a lot of time performing retrospective listening and admiring, and have jumped upon ....Like Clockwork. For all of the slightly underwhelming music from the current scene, it was frankly a relief that Josh Homme and his men still posses the power to confound and inspire. As much as that album will be in my thoughts for many months to come, it has raised some deeper questions in my mind. Having thought about the current climate, I first of all wondered: will the talent show 'stars' of this decade, form the basis for future music and sounds? After giving The Voice (or The Voice U.K. as it is bafflingly called) a fair shake of the dice, my initial reticence and hesitations were all justified. Aside from the nauseating and repellent judges; will.i.am seems to be from a different planet, and is to music what Mussolini was to international peacekeeping. Jessie J. is as repellent; self-obsessed and a rather repulsive figure. The duo form a half of a judging panel, apparently handpicked to decide upon the best and brightest singers of the moment. Alongside The X Factor, whom I harbour an equal hatred towards, my negativity is part of a larger malaise. As much as the world needs stunning new talent and voices; they sure as hell aren't going to come from talent shows. Aside from the fact that the shows are designed to attract the credulous; those whom are hungry for fame- and not self-respect or influence. Aside from Rebecca Ferguson, who can be seen as the exception that proves my rule, none of the winners from the shows have ever turned in anything worthy or even palatable. I hope these shows die a much-needed death, as there is a disturbing trend forming. Every 'talent' that appears on the show is moulded to sound like an existing singer. For the girls, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Whitney Houston are still the favoured idols; for the lads, a composite of old soul greats, as well as modern-day rock stars. Individuality and potential is already beaten out of the participant- yet there is a bigger problem. It seems that musicianship; writing your own songs, and chiselling a likeable and universal personality are foreign terms, and the resultant projection sees a built-in obsolescence and entropy. It is a relevant point with regards to Sophia Bastian, an artist whom has a talent and voice that are difficult to top, and yet is capable of appealing to, and drawing in, a legion of diverse music fans and lovers. Her work ethic and codas are the antithesis of what is favoured in the mainstream; and is why she will find larger and lasting success. My second issue is concerning range within music. For all my love of QOTSA and that style of music, it is ensconced within my thoughts so firmly, because quite simply: there is nothing alternative that really appeals. Still there seems to be a tendency to either promote and herald guitar bands or variations there on; or favour the solo artist, whom usually stray towards acoustic and folk waters. Of course there are exceptions and differences, but for the most part new bands tend to be predictably unadventurous and not in the lease bit captivating. Female artists have shown greater mobility and ambition with regards to diversification- yet still there is an over-reliance to project yourself as a sweet-voiced and girl-next-door acoustic solo artist.
Sophia Bastian dovetails my two points together quite elegantly. She is not a talent show winner, nor does she seem to associate with those shows, or display any sort of patronage for them. Her artistry and focus is based very much around making her own music, on her own terms, and doing so the honest way. In pictures, she is every inch a modern pin-up. Both statuesque and sweet, she has a somewhat profound beauty and striking sex appeal, that will inspire new female talent, as it will enflame the male audience. Bastian is based in New York, yet spent a lot of her youth in Europe. In interviews she seems to want her music to come across as real and honest. She favours diversity and substance in her songs, and has a trusting nature to her, that sees her believe in the goodness of people; yet she has a reserve and natural shell that is aware that the music scene contains many fickle and dishonest people in it as well. As a mixed race artist, she has embraced the music of white and black artists. In terms of Bastian's inspirations and influences, the likes of Stevie Wonder, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone are in there; as too are the likes of the U.K.'s very own Portishead. On paper it may seem like an odd anomaly, given the list of names that have come before. As much as Bastian admires the works of Ray Charles and James Brown, she attests that the music of Florence and the Machine and Fiona Apple are as important. The sounds of the school yard, as well as the music of her youth has enforced this diverse mix of idols. From her travels and time in Europe, Bastian has picked up on the varied mix of music that was present there in the '90s, and has tied this together with older icons, to form the core of her music. Clearly soul and the soul legends are huge idols and important people to her, and if you listen to her E.P. Juvenile Blues, this shines through. The songs within are crammed full of blues and soul touches and styles; displaying as much authority and majesty as the greats of the past, but updating their sounds for the present-day. Bastian has a fond love for a raft of different genres; something that was honed and instilled in her from an early age; enforced by the fact she lives in New York. In Interviews she has stated that New York is very much her identity. It is a city where there is live music every night; ranging from underground clubs, to jazz cafes and charming bars. It is a busy and bustling metropolis that offers 'something for everyone', and is a positive haven for aspiring and established musicians alike. Bastian's time in The Big Apple has built a sense of urgency in her. Songs are written around personal experiences, yet are written with passion and consideration too. Her love of performing has probably been aided by the myriad of music in New York; live performances for Bastian can sometimes be nerve-shredding but always memorable for her: each gig is a separate and unforgettable moment for her. There is no homogenised limits to Bastian; and there are no obvious influences that define her sound. Unlike the talent show puppets, our New York girl has a freewheeling appreciation of multiple genres, and draws this together with her love of soul, blues and reggae, to create songs that are a swirl of intrigue, passion and above all, quality. The travelling soul has picked up a lot from the road, and the countries she has visited. A lot of great fans have been met; a great deal of fascinating locations have featured on her itineraries: promoting a fevered passion for song writing and performing that has taken her to the current day. It was her recent track GloryBoxed, that has gained Bastian a host of praise and adulation. As may have guessed from the title, it is a tribute to Portishead's 1995 single, Glory Box. The nature of Portishead's song concerned sexuality, and the video for the track saw singer Beth Gibbons in a 1950s jazz club; on stage and being watched by an audience in drag. The track's sensuality and mystique was something that Bastian used in GloryBoxed. She has kept the stirring composition, and brought her own set of lyrics to the party; marrying the two together to create a modern and fresh sounding track that has mid-'90s trip hop and electric elements; tied together with soulful and ethereal wonder. The aforementioned gem is the swansong to Bastian's self-titled E.P., and forms one of seven tracks on the record. The E.P. has warranted huge praise from iTunes reviews, as well as the media: all in love with Bastian's incredible songwriter and stunning voice. Sophia Bastian is the summation of a stunning young woman whom has worked hard to get where she is; and that reflects in the tracks. It is the second track from the E.P., Breaking, that has caught my ear, and is a concise and ambitious cut that shows where Bastian has come from, and where she plans on heading next.
"I get so angry/Every time I hear your name" are the words that open Breaking. It is a mandate that is acapella and striking. Our heroine delivers the words intensely and intently; infusing the early seconds with some strong emotions. These pointed words are joined by a subtle but enlivened percussive line; that teams with funky strings, unleashing a dancing and punchy mood that has blues and jazz evocations right from the off. Bastian carefully considers her words and delivery. At once a line can be syncopated and jerking; the next smoothly flowing and seductive. Maximum emotional weight is provided, which means that each sentiment burrows as deep as is possible. Where as lesser artists may stick to a rigid and unchanging pace and delivery, Bastian keeps her words fresh and invigorating. Early themes peak of games within love; an anonymous beau is being chided and rebuked; he is willing to be in the relationship, and be loyal; yet predictably when he is needed the most; our heroine states: "You reclaim your distance". The man seems to only want it easy and his way, as it is said he only will "take on low resistance". At the sapling stages of the track, some notable aspects present themselves. Bastian has a voice that is at once stunningly original; yet has layers of some of the greats. Detected in the mix is a little of Amy Winehouse: a similar style of projection is elicited; so too are some of her blues tones. Adele's power, as well as Gabrielle Cilmi's lower, slightly gravelled tones are lurking within too. As much as there are modern influences within the vocal tones, a little of Billie Holiday's smoky and haunting shades are present too. Bastian is able to employ some elements of the all-time greats both modern and past, yet keep the overall sound very much her own. Her voice is smooth and whispering, with power and force combined; resulting in a heady blend. Bastian is breaking her heart on this bounder; this reject; this man of disrepute. As her voice strikes and seduces, the music propels and keeps the mood energised and electric. Percussive and guitars have a soulful and jazz-tinged jump to them, with the romantic sway of the blues, that augments the words and well as voice. As much as it is "sad but true"; that so much heartache has been caused, our heroine has a tear in her soul. In the video for the song, Bastian is bathed in red: red-painted walls and red lighting are employed, whether to denote the heart or blood; or a bleeding heart is unsure, but it gives the video a romantic but urgent sense. Bastian appears relaxed and stunning; appearing in the shadows with her eyes cast down and her mind occupied by the man she once (or still does) love. It seems that both parties are playing it cool and trying to not lose their heads. Bastian lets her words stride and trip, ensuring that each word and line is imbedded into your mind. As much as a sense of composure and calm is required and sought, our heroine is breaking her heart, and struggling against a tide. Backed by evocative and stirring brass and the continuing jazz/blues atmosphere, an impassioned soundscape is summoned that adds sadness and power to the song's cores. The Adele/Winehouse parables will arrive back into your mind when Bastian's voice rises and crackles. There is a bit of the former's intense power and the latter's whisky and cigarette-drenched emotion; and a notable consideration to the soul legends of the '60s and '70s. As the chorus is reintroduced and struck, Bastian's voice rises and falls; enveloping your senses with its potency and heart-breaking intensity. You get a sense of conviction from the words: lines are delivered that make you think she means every last painful word. In the way that the '50s jazz icons as well as the soul greats ably did; our heroine possesses a rare ability to make common themes of love-on-the-line seem both fresh and steeped in history; it goes beyond and above what her contemporaries are attempting. There is also a sense that there may have been mistakes made in the past. As much as Bastian's heart is being broken, she states that it is "my fault that I do"; giving the impression that her man may have caused similar pain once before. Just before the 2:00 marker, a musical coda is proffered. Our heroine steps away from the mic., letting her backers strike a pose. Brass, percussion and strings are subtly and tenderly deployed. They calm your brow and allow your heartbeat to slow, following on from the intense and powerful protestations that have come before. When Bastian returns to the stage, she is briefly temporised and reflective. "Nothing moves me like your caress", it is said. Our heroine seductively and fondly teases her words; remembering what it is about her man that causes the intense feelings within her. Just as Bastian's voice is kitten-like and dripping with sexiness, it shifts and mutates into a empowered and galvanised. Her words speak of reluctance and uncertainty: "I don't have it in me", she sings; repeating the lines and linking them with wordless quivers that send a shiver down the spine. In fact, the wordless cries and evocations that follow produce a gravity and effect, that says as much as the words that it follows. When the chorus is delivered once more, Bastian's voice is alight with passion and dripping with pain. The conviction with which the likes of Nina Simone and Ray Charles used to infuse their songs with, is equalled by our heroine, whom carries the song to its conclusion, with a sense of longing and torment. It is unsure how things worked out: whether the two reconciled or came together; or whether the bonds are broken and irreparable. Such is the mystique and mystery, we may never know; but it is clear that a weight is on Bastian's heart.
Breaking is the sound and theme from a woman whom has seen her share of pain, and wants to find happiness, but seems like the relationship with the song's 'hero' will never be a smooth one. Sophia Bastian is a name that will be familiar to most very soon. Although she is based in L.A., she has an affection for the U.K. and will hopefully be here more often in the future. Breaking is a memorable and stirring song about one woman's experiences in love, and will be relatable to everyone. As much as the words chart Bastian's feelings and experiences, the themes and sentiments are not too personable that they alienate any listeners. There is a perfect blend of personal narrative as well as universality, that means the song will be familiar and fascinating all at once. The musical elements are evocative and tight. A mixture of jazz and blues sounds, fused with '60s and modern-day soul, is especially pleasing, but it is Bastian and that voice that are the star of the show. Many interviewees and media sources have proclaimed at its effect; fans and followers have also noted, making it axiomatically-redundant of me to say: it is wonderful. As I have mentioned, there are traces of the powerful and emotional tones of Adele, Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, yet its core is very much Bastian's. It is not just the nature of the voice: at once sexy and alluring, the next heartbroken and pained; it is what she can do with it. Certainly lines are smoothly delivered, relaxing you and have a sedating and mesmeric quality. With nary a warning, that same voice can contort into a burdened beast of an instrument: never too overpowering, possessed with just the right amount of strength and conviction. Certain notes and wordless vocalisations are bending and held; similar to the work of Woah-Nelly!-era Nelly Furtado. Youthful innocence mixes with mature and experienced words, making the overall experience impressive indeed. Bastian is an artist whom will gain cross-pollination and inter-gender appeal. With stunning and captivating looks, she has a potent sex appeal that will strike a strong chord; she has the strength and determination of spirit that speaks to the young female market; as well as a varied and authoritative power that will spark the imagination of all. Being a young male whom prefers the heavier side of music, in all its indie/stoner rock/Grunge manifestations, I have been seeking an artists capable of providing a link from the past masters; through to the late-'90s/early-'00s, through to modern day. The fond affection Bastian has for the greats such as Charles, Simone, Holiday and Brown, as well as modern wonders such as Apple, Portishead, as well as Winehouse and Adele, does just this. There is a great and balanced mix between classic soul and modern-day sounds; between jazz and blues edges and reggae too. The Sophia Bastian E.P. is an acute and pragmatic collection of stunning songs, which chart our heroine's loves, fears and hopes; which blends personal songs with multi-genre moves; creating an ambitious and impressive collection. Breaking is a stirring and emotive song that can win hearts, minds and souls, and provides an insight into the wonders that the E.P. holds. It is worth seeking out the N.Y.-based chanteuse, as her stock is on the rise, and people are latching on to just how good she is. I always end by wondering what the future holds for the artist. In Bastian's case I am sure an album or another E.P. is probably on her mind, and following from the success of GloryBoxed, it could be tantalising to say the least. The combination of soul, reggae, blues and trip hop influences could spell and incredible future prospect. In the same way that singers such as Martina Topley-Bird have a voice that can score grime and trip-hop tricks, as well as blues and soul numbers, so too does Bastian. Topley-Bird is one of the most versatile and impressive singers of the modern day, and should Bastian decide to take a similar direction, then the future will be very busy for her. I hope that she is in the U.K. more, as I am yet to see her live, and would love to experience that first-hand. So few modern singers have a similar affection for soul, and are capable of penning songs that have the same striking quality. Whatever is next on the horizon, one thing is certainly crystal-clear:
IT will be memorable, indeed.