Marina Herlop is often described as a pianist, a lingering remnant of her classical training at the Conservatori Professional de Música in Badalona. But what strikes the listener on Herlop’s breakout track ‘miu’ – a song acclaimed by Pitchfork and playlisted by Bicep – is the intricate trickery of her voice, tracing rhythmical clusters around the subtlest of musical beds, in a technique inspired by Carnatic music of Southern India.
‘miu’, the opening track of Herlop’s new studio album Pripyat, was among the first songs that the young Catalan artist made on a computer, after two albums – 2016’s Nanook and 2018’s Babasha – that brought spectral elegance to the sound of piano and voice, tinged by electronic effects and subtle production trickery. This spirit of adventure continues into Pripyat, Herlop’s first full album produced on a computer, and her most intensely emotional work to date.
“Ever since I was a teenager, I had always felt reluctant and lazy about computers and new technologies – and I still do – but in the process of recording my second album I worked together with a producer and that led me to learn the basics of Ableton,” Herlop explains. “As it was a ‘new toy’ for me, I wanted to try a lot of new things I hadn’t done in my previous albums (riffs, vocal harmonisation, drums, timbre dimension) and maybe that’s why the new album feels a bit ‘horror vacui’ [a concept in art approximately translated from the Latin ‘fear of empty spaces’]”
Admirably forward-looking, Herlop says that the recording of Pripyat was driven by a fear of repeating herself. “I started the composition process with the same tools as the second album – a piano, my phone and a sheet of paper – but the music I was coming up with sounded too much like my own former work. I wasn’t finding it interesting so I thought I should incorporate new tools in the creative process to break that line. That’s when I started using the computer as the main vertebra of the creative process and the concepts of ‘composition’ and ‘production’ merged.”
Herlop says that recording Pripyat was “deeply joyful and exciting but also deeply tough and despairing”. “It’s difficult for me to put in words the amount of work and emotional load that this album encloses,” she adds.
Listening to Pripyat – which was mastered by cult UK producer Joker – you can feel the emotional toil and creative endeavour that went into the record. Fans of Nanook and Babasha will recognise the combination of melancholic piano and elegant vocal lines that is found on Pripyat tracks like Abans Abans (“Before, Before” in English). But Pripyat has a far fuller, almost chaotic sound when compared to Herlop’s previous work, with the addition of electronic drums – a first for the artist – electric bass lines and a wealth of sublime production effects.
“I had never used drums in an album so I was very eager to experiment with a percussion metric and its textures,” Herlop says of recording ‘miu’. “The process of making this song – and my usual workflow – was an intricate process in which pure chaos confronted intense perfectionism. I tend to add so many layers and sections and I keep so little of all the material – I discard almost everything I come up with.”
Added to this production expertise are songs of incredible grace and poise. ‘Kaddish’ is a spectral torch song rendered in emotional 3D by Herlop’s gorgeous voice; ‘ubuntu’ has a feeling of deep longing and lingering sorrow; and ‘shaolin mantis’ is, in its own very individual way, like a pop song refracted through disorienting production effects and percussive vocal cut ups, an anthem glimpsed under ether. Pripyat is, in fact, the perfect combination of computer production trickery and intimate emotional release. “I made this album with a computer but I still have the feeling that it’s ‘hand-made’