“In my mind, it’s become ‘the impossible album,’” says Paris Mancini, known professionally as PSIRENS, of her new project. As its title indicates, ALIVE (Matron Records) was supposed to be a live album. “I really focused on writing these simple, raw and true songs, just the bare bones,” the Santa Fe musician explains. “So it made sense to try to record them with a full band.” When she attempted to schedule a Santa Fe recording session with a number of far-flung musicians, things got a little too complicated. In lieu of bringing a band together, Mancini traveled across the nation to record with each of her accompanists. The result is a 12-track album of stripped-down, jazz-inflected songs that will debut at form & concept on Friday, May 11 from 6 to 9 pm. The ALIVE Album Release Concert is presented by Matron Records, and will feature the first-ever live performance of the new album.
As PSIRENS, Mancini has built a reputation for her inventive use of layering and loops. She bends vocals and instrumentals into interlinking Möbius strips, building atmospheric compositions that draw the listener into vast electroacoustic landscapes. “It’s easy to pull someone in with a lot of layers, something they can get lost in because it’s a forest of notes,” Mancini says. For ALIVE, she made a daring shift, pairing live vocals with acoustic instrumentation and subtler looping. “I tried to give what I could for the song’s benefit—and nothing else,” she says. “It’s kind of terrifying, because it really pushes my lyrics to the forefront. For the most part, you hear every word.”
Mancini wrote all of the songs on ALIVE, and contributed vocals, looping and bass guitar. Last summer she traveled to the San Juan Islands in Washington State to record with pianist Grisha Krivchenia on his off-the-grid property. “I would wake up with the sun, hop in the pond to wake up, and we’d record first thing in the morning,” Mancini recalls. “It gave the album this freshness, whereas the rest of the PSIRENS albums are darker and murkier.” Later, she swung through Boise, Idaho for sessions with harpist Matthew Tutsky and cellist Jake Saunders. In her sometime home of New York City, she recorded additional vocals. Back in Santa Fe, she worked with sound engineer Will Dyer to weave it all together. “It sounds like we’re all in the same room, which is so hard to do,” Mancini says. “It has this jazz-like quality to it that’s really special.”
For the ALIVE Album Release Concert, Mancini will perform among sculptural set pieces of her own creation. The task of uniting all of her collaborators still eludes Mancini, but Krivchenia willaccompany her on piano live from the San Juan Islands. CDs of ALIVE will be available for the first time, along with other PSIRENS merchandise. Though there’s “What’s funny is that it isn’t really a live album, but I had to fight so hard for its existence,” says Mancini. “So it is remarkable that it is alive.”
Mountain Music, the newest release and a collaborative split by PSIRENS and SLOW PROTEO, is an ideal introduction to Mancini's dynamic vocal stylings and intricate looping work, which is effortlessly matched by a dark and dancy backdrop of synth layers and beats produced by Slow Proteo. The release features two highly-stylized covers: "Falling" by Julee Cruise & Angelo Badalamenti and "Ramblin' Man" by Hank Williams III. The former was made infamous as part of David Lynch's cult 90's show Twin Peaks and the duo conjures every bit of Lynch's high-strangeness, even composing the cover in Snoqualmie Falls where it was filmed. The re-imagined "Ramblin' Man" cover is equally haunting, with Mancini's low crone over a wash of ambient synths and guitar (featuring Mika Tarkela) which is reminiscent of both Washington state's dark, mysterious fog and the bewitching quality of Carla Bozulich's experimental work.
The three original tracks off of the split ("Stars," "MNTN" and "theMotions") inspire the same shadowy groves explored in the covers, with each track illuminating additional layers of Maninici and Avery's creative depths and experimental-yet-still-catchy sensibilities. Together with "Falling" and "Ramblin Man," Mountain Music proves to be an exemplary work of collaborative songwriting, equally showcasing the talents of PSIRENS and Slow Proteo.