It’s very rare you get an alt-folk concept album centring around an imagined planet just off Pluto. It’s unchartered territory, in fact. Yet, this is the perfect way to introduce Maja Lena. Previously of the band Low Chimes, Lena has followed up on her debut solo album The Keeper with PLUTO, an ode to an imaginary extra-terrestrial entity located just off Pluto. The space in which the album occupies couldn’t be further away, yet, Maja Lena invites you into her world with incredible intimacy.
Lena has once again worked with producer, former bandmate and drummer Rob Pemberton to execute her vision. The two have worked together to produce something which draws from electronic influences yet still pays its dues to folk conventions. “We were both on the same page of wanting it to be more electronic, but keeping some organic instrumentation in there”, Lena explains. This balance of the past and future situates the listener in a fresh, compelling space.
This space is no better evidenced than on ‘No More Flowers’. The track exemplifies the unexpected yet beautiful blending of the electronic and traditional folk. Pemberton’s drumming acts as a metronome to Lena’s stream of consciousness, like the second hand on an elaborate clock. The chimes that intermittently present themselves are welcome intrusions. It’s much like walking through a forest, or inhabiting a peaceful, natural space. Lena longs for a future time (“Maybe one day we’ll walk side by side again”), accepting of the natural process of change, looking past the raw emotion.
With one eye looking to the past for folk influences (the guitar part on closer ‘The Curtain’ recalling Nick Drake) and one eye looking forward with the use of synths, Maja Lena hits on a new interpretation of folk music. You can’t help but think of the electronic imperfection Bon Iver showcased on 22, A Million, or the relentless genre-bending of Cate Le Bon‘s discography.
The theme of memory is prominent across PLUTO. ‘Through The Wall’ sees Lena muse over a lost connection, with details being hazy. The anxiety of unrequited emotion contrasting the beauty of the imagery (“Am I just a weaver of green grass tales? Trying to put words in your mouth”/ “A place where the fire will always sing and blaze within your stare”). Any stanza of Lena’s poetry could stand in isolation.
At it’s most futuristic, the album soars. Tracks such as ‘Portal’ hammering home the extra-terrestrial themes with celebration. It wouldn’t be too far of a jump for the song to be sampled in a DJ set, which is not something that could be said about many of her contemporaries. Tied together by self-illustrated album artwork, which visually expresses the location and themes of the album, the listener is fully submerged into Lena’s world.
PLUTO plays back to the listener like a wandering walk in nature. There is an overwhelming feeling of beauty, complimented by unexpected comfort. Nature can be so brutal, but by substituting the location to an imaginary planet, Lena permits the listener to connect the themes to their own life, free from their realities. It’s a tranquil listen, with reassurance being sought in imperfection, bound together by the dynamism of Pemberton’s drumming. Accept Maja Lena’s invitation, and you will be incredibly rewarded.
Maja Lena is on tour until February 9.