Sound track: Self-titled debut by Celia Verbeck

There’s something springlike about the self-titled debut album by Lake Lure-based vocalist and songwriter Celia Verbeck. Lead track “Opposite the Echo” is all fresh burble and sprightly high notes. The music by Adeodat Warfield — synthesized beats and airy melodies — are well paired with Verbeck’s sweet, elastic soprano.

The bedroom synth-pop project is a study of opposites — a lush soundscape created by just two people; a balance of electronic instrumentation and organic sensation; a delicate, feminine vocal delivered over a foundation of glitches and snaps, static and fuzz. But each of those polarizing elements is weighed and measured. The beats and atmospherics are tasteful and color the songs with equal parts futurism and the earthy topography of a forest primeval.

The song titles themselves suggest as much: “Clay Language” is layered, thick at its bass and breezy where Verbeck’s upper register soars. “Primal Room,” slower, with a rhythmic pulse, snakes and shimmers. The vocalist uses her voice like another instrument, the lyrics slipping in and out of the music. Sometimes they’re audible and other times they blend into the tapestry, a thread vanishing into the larger image. But this is an artistic choice rather than a recording error, and it serves the mystical experience of the album.

“Ponki” pairs tender lyrics and sweeping refrains with samples of distorted voices. It could be track from an animated film. In fact, there are cinematic nods throughout the project. Its cover art with pink-streaked mountains introduces Verbeck’s otherworldly explorations. Vocal samples on the short “Swimming For the Door” anchor that flight of fantasy. But “Heart Deco,” with its muscular bass surge, ventures farther into an alternate reality of strobe-lit midnight. “Hiding inside my heart’s a waiting room you painted blue,” Verbeck sings.

“Keep,” reminiscent of Tracy Thorn, is another nocturne. Made for solo dancing, it builds on themes of love and longing — its a mood crystallized in the album — though these aren’t typical love songs. The romance is as skewed and scattered as the spray of beats and the spacey warbles that share space with Verbeck’s vocal aerials.

“Our Slow Century,” with the repeated query, “What you waiting for?” is one of the collection’s poppiest offerings, but it’s quickly followed by the galloping, Outlander-esque “Homelanding.” That track recalls late-’80s songs by Enya and Loreena McKennitt — the resonant vocal, the sorcery of booming percussion and swirling strains of harp and flute. But while those artists came from an era in love with synthesizers, Verbeck’s embrace of synth-pop is modern — a re-imagining of those magical, Renaissance-tinged songs that relies neither on world music influence nor over-polished production.

Final track “Closing Garden” crackles with energy. It’s a change of pace, a return from intergalactic travel to the close confines of a bedroom dance party. Verbeck’s vocal, too, has settled back on Earth. Pop-savvy and syncopated in her delivery, she remains in her lower register, asking the listener, “Do you think about me?” Like the rest of the album, there’s range even in this simple song. Its gloss of fun belies an emotional heft; its uncomplicated lyric would be at odds with the complexity of the music — were the instrumentation not such a confection.

And were the confection not so substantial. And if the dream world wasn’t so close to the waking world.

Best not to think about it too much, and just dance.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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