Rating – 4/5
EP Artwork by Kelly Warner
Birmingham-based artist, Rachel Victoria uses her rich voice and jazz-inspired piano playing to communicate a feeling of dislocation from society in her debut EP, Lavender and Citrine.
Interestingly, Lavender and Citrine are both types of quartz, which are supposed to provide health, prosperity and good fortune to the wearer. Therefore, it won’t surprise you that the title track of this EP is teeming with references to the supernatural. She describes herself as the green man whose roots won’t grow and as a lucky penny who is searching for herself. This is probably supposed to symbolise the overall sentiment of not belonging, or perhaps to evoke the complete disarray of her mental state. The song describes a troubled women who refuses a relationship she needs for the fear of passing on her problems. Her depression almost overwhelms her so that she cannot face being happy. She is so scared of falling down again that she stays intertwined in her own thoughts, shutting off the world. It could be that the relationship is the mythic cure she truly needs, or that her mind is the quack medicine she is holding onto to no avail. However, as she can’t love herself, she can’t love him.
Continuing the theme of herbal medicines, ‘Little Miss Dandelion’ equally explores someone perusing the wrong way to be happy in life. Victoria’s character is a wild women who is embracing the thrill of insanity. Drunk, mad and in love, Little Miss Dandelion appears to be in her own magical world. Yet, the final lines, “And the tides will bring her back home/ She don’t need saving now” suggest she does find a way to be herself in the real universe.
Likewise, ‘Freak Show’ is from the point of view of an outsider who feels trapped in her current life. Its lyrics follow the same fantastical semantics as the title track. Romanticising about joining the circus or living in the wild, Victoria makes her opinion clear on the subject of humanity. She refers to them as “animals”, although she also identifies herself as a “freak” and her mind as a master who condemns her. She believes she doesn’t deserve love or happiness because of her uniqueness. She even goes as far as saying no-one would care if she died! You end up pleading that she will accept herself for who she is.
The fourth track is titled ‘Lonely Pride’: “Lonely” as it follows the end of a relationship and “pride” as she won’t give in to her pain. “You have a hold on me without holding me,” Victoria sings, acknowledging that she misses her ex-partner. However, she is determined not to return to a relationship which became sour and claustrophobic. She also admits she never really wanted to leave; although, even her love couldn’t withstand the lack of effort her partner put into the relationship.
On the other hand, the final track centres on a relationship she managed to destroy. The speaker actually appears to have driven their partner into alcoholism. “I don’t blame you”, “I was hard to love”, she sings, whilst also promising to “be there until the end”. She hopes that there is still love underneath his drink-fuelled hatred and that they can rekindle what they once had.
Her lyrics are absolutely saturated with meaning. However, somehow even more can be unearthed from every vocal harmony or jazz-infused piano part. The unconventional structure of ‘Lavender and Citrine’, for example, is filled with long instrumental sections on piano and guitar, which each drip with desperation. Meanwhile, that pulsing bass note during the final moments of the track serves as a constant reminder of her anguish.
Victoria chose classical guitar as the primary instrument in ‘Little Miss Dandelion’, whereas funky basslines have a more prominent role in ‘Freak Show’. Every part in that song is centred around extremely catchy riffs – whether it be on spacey synthesisers or violins. The end of the song brings forth an unusual syncopated section, during which two Rachels sing in call and response. This chorus of clones follows her into nearly every song, providing a theatrical coating of sound.
Victoria is clearly a pianist at heart, running her fingers up and down the keys in tentative waves. She is equally unafraid to experiment; she uses police (or possibly ambulance) siren effects in ‘Wine Tinted’, which combined with the lyrics have dangerous connotations.
Ultimately, Rachel Victoria has provided us with five moving tracks that could one day bring jazz back into the mainstream.
Review by Alex Brian