“With Ela’s music I feel emotional, engaged… I can’t help but feel she’s always looking for a sense of belonging and it seems to inform all the music that she makes. Glasgow must have more of that belonging feeling than most cities because she’s spent the most time here, an exotic bird in a rainy city she maybe finds a lttle bit of comfort in. It’s a pleasure to have her here, in this awful time to be living in Britain, her illuminations feel important and hopeful. A stubborn light; someone making great timeless music out of the humdrum of the everyday.” - Stephen Pastel
Movies For Ears is a retrospective collection of works by Polish-born, Glasgow-based artist Ela Orleans which navigates almost two decades of songwriting in the heart of the global pop underground. This remastered collection casts an ear over what Orleans might call the ‘pop sensibility’ within her back catalogue. Released previously on a number of small DIY labels, Orleans’ music coincided with the explosion of auto-didactic musicians finding their voice in the age of the blogosphere, artists emboldened by the democratisation of music-making afforded by the internet. From the outset, Orleans’ childhood studying formal music mixed with cut-up techniques, sampling, sound-art and experimentation to create a distinctive signature cloaked in an innate melancholy and playfulness. Fully remastered by James Plotkin, featuring extensive sleeve-notes and rare photos from Orleans’ archive, Movies For Ears presents an appraisal of the musician’s work, painting a portrait of an artist with an uncanny ability to evoke emotions and ghosts of memories in the listener.
Each song pulls sunshine from its surroundings, moments of pleasure plucked from eulogies. The Season employs a hypnotic loop with Orleans’s prophetic voice heralding the season we’re doomed to repeat. In fact the singer is often cast as the changing protagonist in her songs: on Walkingman, a hazy ballad heavy with ennui, the narrator is laden with the world’s weight, forever pacing a groundhog day world blank, a pissed-off actor in a Kafka-esque melodrama. On Light At Dawn we’re in a seedy kitsch bar-room go-go scene, a ghostly rock’roll romance with shimmering percussion, pole-dancing in a Lynchian half-dream. Movies For Ears’ moods straddle memory and fantasy: scratchily invoking half-remembered exotica, the flickering shadows of europhile cinemas screens, a delicately woven world anchored in Orleans existential meditations on longing, intimacy, solitude and the search for love. These rich textures in every song don’t overpower some crystalised moments of emotion however: on In Spring Orleans sings simply “I have been happy two weeks together,” summarizing that feeling of elation when emerging from a depression, a long winter. It’s a moment that perfectly illustrates the lightness of touch and clarity in the singer’s voice.
The power of the loop and Orleans’ weaving songwriting that breaks its spell is illustrated perfectly by I Know. Over an aching chord progression, the vocal takes flight into bittersweet loneliness, Pachelbel’s Canon played at a wedding where only one person shows up. The repeated refrain “I know, I know” ascends to the heavens as the chords descend to the dumps and the listener is left in the middle, happy but not knowing why, maybe a little changed, two weeks together. On Movies For Ears, Ela Orleans lets us into a secret: the rare moments of joy to be found in the joins of the loop, the spaces between things, the spring after the winter are the moments that last after the day has faded.
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Like so many others, this came like a bolt out of the blue and, even though it's well before payday, I had to have this astonishing album on vinyl to prove it exists. The feel of the tunes makes me feel like the Impressions do, Curtis Mayfield, the big spaces and instinctive horns and stuff drifting in and out. Great grooves and I can see lots of ghosts nodding along to this with big smiles on their faces. At last! Anthony Cottrell