Album review by KevW
If you had to choose a location that claims to have invented "sci-fi folk" then Huddersfield would probably be quite low down on the list. Yet this is the claim of West-Yorkshire's Maia, and their second album 'Pepper Stars' has a cover and title befitting of such a declaration. And check these track titles: 'Alien', 'More Strangely Than The Moon', 'Four Angels', 'Pepper Stars'... they're making a decent attempt at backing up their statement, and lyrical themes often focus on subjects not of this world. But what would sci-fi folk sound like? Is that what 'Space Oddity' was? Or the music from The Clangers? Sci-fi folk may be an oxymoron; can you mix futuristic sounds and imagery with the rustic, earthy sounds of folk?
Maia may have an obsession with space but it's an earthly noise they make, albeit a wonderfully diverse one. 'Alien' with its military drums and heavenly voices definitely strays from traditional sounds (and actually does include some Clangers-like noises), but then 'Zuma Aluma' has a continental feel, part French and part Latino; they're obviously fans of diversity and not slaves to routine. The twee and twinkly 'Alight Adventure' is joyfully fantastical, also including more exotic sounds, and we're only three songs in. There are flirtations with jazz such as 'Dear iO' and the trad sounds on 'The Grandfather Plan' which possesses cinematic qualities, as do many of these compositions.
The beautiful simplicity of 'Where Else But Earth' is a moving highlight that flowers into a mariachi and flamenco hybrid with some excellent backing vocals and imaginative lyrics. In contrast it's followed by the gentle, countryish bop of 'The Boy', then 'More Strangely Than The Moon' takes country and bolts on a ton of brass making something pretty unique. There are even playful hints of classical music on 'Sundown' and 'Towards The Onion'. Single 'Living In The Alligator' could be the best starting point for people used to more conventional songs and structures. These are clever tracks with interesting arrangements, they may be sci-fi in some of their themes but their music is truly global.
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