Mariana (Marjana) Semkina
Mariana (Marjana) Semkina, better known as the vocalist, lyricist and co-songwriter with the Russian Progressive Chamber Rock band Iamthemorning, released her debut solo album 'Sleepwalking' on 14th February 2020 through the Kscope record label. Featuring contributions from Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Craig Blundell and Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson) and the St. Petersburg Orchestra "1703". Semkina has one of those angelic and unique voices, not unlike the heavenly dulcet tones of Kate Bush, Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn), Anne-Marie Helder (Panic Room) and Chrissy Mostyn (Blackheart Orchestra). Her song writing blends complex melodic lines and poetic lyrics with classic and ancient literary references. The new material doesn't stray too far from the Iamthemorning sound, but does clearly resonate with distinctive individual and unique overtones, channeling a vulnerable sensitivity with delicate and subtle dreamy textures of a more personal nature. A spellbinding and compelling mixture of alternative Folk, Pop, drama, beauty with intense emotive lyrics.
Semkina formed Iamthemorning with Russian pianist Gleb Kolyadin in 2010. Their name was taken from the song ‘I Am the Morning’ from Oceansize's debut release, 'Effloresce'. The band self-released their debut album, '~', in April 2012. Their second studio album, 'Belighted', was released by Kscope in September 2014, with their third studio album, 'Lighthouse' being released in 2016. That same year the band won Album of the Year at the 2016 Progressive Music Awards. The fourth album 'Ocean Sounds' was released in 2018 and came with an accompanying DVD of live in the studio footage. Their latest studio album 'The Bell' was released in 2019.
Mariana explains the motivation behind releasing a solo album “It wasn’t my plan to ascribe any profound meaning or concept to creating ‘Sleepwalking’, it’s purpose was more personally therapeutic, it was supposed just to help me get through some dark times, and at the end of that period in my life I found myself, not only renewed but with a collection of songs that were too personal to release under any other name other than my own”. She continues “I wanted to use ‘Sleepwalking’ as a way to translate emotions in the most sincere and unrefined way. No sugarcoating, no filters, just creative, honest thought caught in the moment. Turning those dark times and feelings into pure creative energy, something beautiful, something that has purpose”.
The stunning album artwork makes reference to Semkina's love for classical art, unifying photography with the 17th-Century Vanitas movement; “I am a big lover of classical art, and with this cover I wanted to create some sort of a unity between medium of photography and the Vanitas art movement, a genre of still life painting. The paintings of the genre usually contain collections of objects symbolic of the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures; it exhorts the viewer to consider mortality, which is extremely close to where this album came from.”
The fragile and brooding 'Dark Matter' opens the album with a quiet restrained entrance, delicately building in intensity with layers of strings and atmospheric keyboards adding to the overall tension. Semkina's angelic falsetto voice shimmers majestically over the top like a wondrous angel! “One day I’ll find, the hole inside, what used to be my heart, became dark matter”
'Am I Sleeping Or Am I Dead', a deep question! Hopefully just sleeping! “Thousand thoughts are rushing through my head, wondering am I, am I sleeping or am I dead”. Another gently sweeping song with tingling harp peppering through waves of strings. Semkina's soft celestial voice soars and escalates to an ethereal high register. Hair raising and quite stunning! With the song coming to an abrupt end, 'Turn Back Time' wastes no time entering the fold. This track takes the pace up slightly with tantalizing percussion providing the driving energy and an accessible and catchy melodious chorus to rouse the listener. “But it’s okay, to be afraid, when the whole world around is on fire”.
Third track in 'Ars Longa Vita Brevis' opens with daintily plucked acoustic guitar before Semkina's cherubic vocals wash over the silky smooth string accompaniment. 'Ars longa, vita brevis' is a Latin translation of a Greek aphorism. The aphorism quotes the first two lines of the Aphorismi by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. The familiar Latin translation suggests the long-lasting impact of art over the brevity of life.
Fourth track 'Invisible' is another deeply atmospheric song with emotionally fraught seraphic vocals that grapple with your heart-strings and inner sensitivity, “I have become invisible, all my sorrows they are coming”. Heart wrenching stuff indeed! 'Lost At Sea' delves into further dark caverns of sorrow and gleaming foreboding! Eloquent falsetto vocals cut through the heavy mist shrouded air like a freshly sharpened knife, “Let the waters embrace my heart, until I figure out how to be apart, let the waters teach my soul, to embrace it all and accept it all”. 'Skin' starts with warming melodically plucked strings before gradually building with sumptuous decorous piano, plush teasing percussion and insistent palatial drums. Semkina's mellifluous vocals are delicately soft and gracefully soothing, despite the highly sensitive, painful and emotionally charged lyrics, “I am sanding light, peeling my skin off, off my body where you touched it”. 'How To Be Alone' starts quiet and wispy before ascending with assertion. The lyrics cascade like waterfalls from euphonious vocals, “I will teach you how to be alone my girl”.
'Everything Burns' is possibly the weakest song on the album, a little bit one-dimensional musically. However, Semkina's vocals are sensitively emotive and silky smooth, with accompanying sweeping strings warming to the ears, “ I breathe through pain, my skin is burning, and I will find I am on fire”. 'Mermaid Song' enters with a delicately controlled bowed cello before empyrean vocals soar towards the heavens, rising and flying over the busy percussion below. The gathering pace elevating the tension to euphoric heights, soaring strings battle with lively percussion as they head towards the glorious climax! “Hold your breath your under water, but you won't get away from your fear”. Beautifully mellow and sweet-sounding piano arpeggios introduce the spellbinding 'Still Life', the concluding song on the album. A gracefully meandering and audio spacious track, which allows breathing space between the notes. Melodious and soothing vocals shimmer and sparkle with a meditative and calming influence. Overall, a beautiful sounding album with emotionally intense lyrics and stunning vocals to match.
Steven C. Gilbert