Magic is the debut solo release from Melbourne, Australia’s Ayda Akbal. While she’s just nineteen years old--and still in college!--she is already a commissioned composer and regular live performer. For this album, she wanted “all of the choices, thoughts and little nuances” to be her own; the nine tracks were recorded, performed, mixed and mastered all by Akbal from her bedroom studio. Only the album art (a lovely watercolor by Yesim Gözükara) uses outside help.
For Akbal’s live performances, she focuses on piano/vocal gigs, and this orientation feeds through into Magic. The piano features heavily in the instrumentation, and layered vocal parts are everywhere, sometimes filling the space where we’d expect a synth nowadays. She did some of her songwriting on ukulele and cello, too, and these instruments make their appearances as well. There’s almost no percussion on Magic, save for a few drum loops (on “Lullaby” and “Regret”).
With this setup, you would expect a smooth sound, and you’d be correct. There’s nothing jarring in the soundscape (save for the aforementioned “Lullaby” and “Regret”, which we’ll touch on later), and Akbal uses plenty of ambient reverb to keep us awash in soothing sound. She uses the cello to good effect, both in counterpoint (“Maybe”) and as a bowed tension-builder (“Darling Won’t You?”). Akbal has developed some good mixing skills, too--there are a number of mezzo piano parts that are just wisps of sound, offering subtle support, such as the low-and-right passage at the beginning of “Interlude.”
Akbal’s club gigs are clear influences here, as most of these tracks can translate directly into a live setlist. It’s great to have this original material ready to perform. But Magic really shines when Akbal moves from the live-artist-in-a-studio mindset to a studio-artist-who-might-play-live approach.
Those two tracks, “Lullaby” and “Regret,” are the don’t-miss winners here. On “Lullaby,” Akbal starts us in the regular sing-us-to-sleep canon (“Darling close your eyes / Sweetheart clear your mind / Little one don't you know? / There's no need to be afraid tonight”) with her trademark, lushly-layered vocals. Then we get a hint of a drum loop--again, nice mixing here--and as that loop becomes more and more prominent, the track morphs into an energetic, almost electro-trance track. You may not use this particular track to tuck the kids in, but it’s a treat for the ears.
On “Regret,” Akbal combines her tight harmonies and skilled voice with modern synth sounds to create a tightly-edited soul/hip-hop track, finger-snaps and all. The backing track and vocal lead are both very interesting, and could stand alone, yet mesh together perfectly. She’s showing us where she can go as a recording artist. Give her a spin now: you won’t regret it.
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