It takes a particularly talented person to make electronic music sound organic — compositions that feel like they live and breathe. Sofia Hultquist is one of those musicians. You hear it in both her solo scores and the score work she does with her husband, Ian. Her long-running Drum & Lace project is likewise loaded to the brim with electronic elements that pulsate with a massive heartbeat.
Along those lines, she has never been a musician I’d call “synthy” or a “synth artist,” even though she deftly uses synthesizers of some type on the regular. More so, I’d place her studio album work in the same camp as The Haxan Cloak (Bobby Krlic), Zola Jesus, Flying Lotus, or Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. You could place her stuff on Warp, Ghostly, or even Sacred Bones, and it would sound right at home.
On Natura, her latest album, her organic approach is even more in force — and it’s not merely because of the presence of real strings by the London Contemporary Orchestra. As the title suggests, the natural world is a pronounced theme of the album and one that is tailor-made for Hultquist. Built into this is an inherent sense of the cinematic. Although her studio releases have always reflected some elements of her day job, there’s something about Natura that is markedly more in line with her recent score work. (Certainly more than, say, the excellent stuff of hers I was writing about a few years ago.)
A potent example of the filmic-modern electronic harmony of Natura is the IDM-infused cut “Waxing Crescent.” The central synth arps strike a Reichian rumination — weaving meticulously around repeated themes, underneath which the drum machine stabs and pulses its way to an intriguing denouement. Throughout are Hultquist’s wordless vocals, what could be field-recordings-turned-percussion, and a stark characterization of the explosive internal nature of contemplation. It’s an intriguing representation of the entire record in one seven-minute song.
The piano-driven texture-fest “Sirens,” with its warm, skittering percussion and yearning lead piano, is laced with emotive synths, ambient pads, a splash of creaky colors that coat the spaces between the sounds, and a tanker full of trepidation. It too is a prime example of Hultquist’s masterwork on Natura.
Elsewhere, on “oe,” we find Hultquist pairing evocative vocals with a dark, slow, and dynamically rhythmic musical palette. It presents the kind of sultry foreboding you’d find on Massive Attack’s 1998 masterpiece, Mezzanine, but with the artistically grander scope Hultquist reliably exhibits with ease.
Natura, released on ambient label Past Inside the Present, is Hultquist’s first full-length album, remarkably. Perhaps with the multi-modal, mixed-media experiments in which she’s been involved, and the various EPs, in addition to the scores for things like the I Know What You Did Last Summer TV series, Good Girls and Night Teeth, there just hasn’t been the time.
Or perhaps this is exactly the right time. After all, Natura showcases Hultquist’s various talents — cinematic music, electronic experimentation through both soundscapes and composition, and often peculiar field recordings used uniquely — in a markedly organic fashion that feels particularly potent in our metawhatever era. The musical experience of the album suggests that Hultquist’s Drum & Lace project is at the vanguard of the next wave of post-pandemic, pre-apocalyptic, beat-driven ambient electronic music. We live in “exciting” times and it’s always good to have some great music to get you through it.
Natura was released on April 8 and is available in digital and physical formats on Bandcamp and other platforms and places.