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Lights Out Zoltar!

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Album Review

On her second album, British singer/songwriter Gemma Ray lights out again on the adventurous trajectory she established with her 2008 debut. The word used repeatedly to describe Ray's cinematic retro sound is "noirish," and while that accurately describes the spacious, tremolo-heavy atmosphere of many of the songs here, it misses the warmth, quirky wit, and low-gloss sparkle of Ray's writing. She references pre-Fab Four rock for the melody and melodrama, ‘60s girl groups for the harmonies, spaghetti western soundtracks for the sense of space, and indie-pop for the cheek.

Recorded (with co-producer Michael J. Sheehy) in a home-studio setting, the tracks benefit from thoughtful production and, in some cases, a concert-hall largeness of scope that belies the modest production. The familiar rubs shoulders with the off-kilter, as on the lush space opera "Fist of a Flower," which layers multiple Gemmas over a languorous minor-key shuffle, with an insistent Beach Boys harmony hook that sounds both comfortingly recognizable and spookily out of context. On "(You Got Me in a) Death Roll," Ray toughens up and deepens her voice for a dirgey blues number with weird, stentorian, Greek-chorus backing vocals that turn a simple blues into a theatrical show-stopper. A similar sense of drama informs the rest of the songs here, and while the noir thing can be a lot to digest over the course of 12 songs, the gentle, unadorned album-closer, "So Do I," demonstrates that Ray can do "subtle," too.

Customer Reviews

Indie pop genesis

This music is impossible to categorize. On the surface, you'll find intelligent songwriting and highly diverse soundscapes. Below the surface you'll find dark lyrics painting pictures of a worn emotions and far-away places. You get the psychedelic orchestrations of "Snuck a Peek" and minimalist psychedelia of "Dig Me a River" to the Field Music / Bishop Allen-like indie pop of "Tough Love". Then, off to the dark, Phil Spector-like arrangement of "Fist of a Flower" and the film-score worthy mood piece "Goody Hoo". The radio-friendly and Americana-tinged tracks "100 MPH (in 2nd gear)" and "No Water" will make you surprised you're listening to a British songwriter. Indie rock has reached a new level with Gemma Ray's debut release. For any fan of Americana, 60's pop, or retro-psychedelia, this album is highly recommended. Hoping there's lots more to come from Ms. Ray.


Born: Basildon, Essex, England

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

British pop music has plenty of retro-soul and R&B acts, but the recordings of singer/songwriter Gemma Ray reveal a more complex and restless artistic nature than most. Reaching back to pre-Beatles rock for inspiration — but tossing in a jumble of influences including the torch songs of Billie Holiday, film scores, flamenco, and beyond —...
Full Bio
Lights Out Zoltar!, Gemma Ray
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