Briana Marela’s album release at Barboza Saturday, Aug. 29, was surprisingly low-key. She shared the bill with Norwegian singer-songwriter Jenny Hval.
Seattle singer, songwriter and sonic experimenter Briana Marela’s record-release show Saturday (Aug. 29) at Barboza felt a little modest, given that the occasion was seven or eight years in the making. That’s how long ago Marela, 25, began this project as an audio recording student at Olympia’s Evergreen State College, and the album in question, “All Around Us” — recorded in Iceland at Sigur Rós’ home studio — is her first to get a wide release.
With the room about half-full — chalk it up to the wet, windy weather, or maybe the early 8 p.m. start time — the gig felt less like a star turn than a performance in someone’s living room. With just a laptop, assorted microphones and keyboards and an impressive mass of cables separating her from the audience, Marela’s 45-minute performance was so fluid it wasn’t always clear where one song ended and the next began. The crowd held its applause — which was louder than the music ever got — until the end so as not to upset the vibe.
Marela’s gentle, ethereal voice, which she uses as both melody and percussion, has drawn comparisons to Björk’s; her loop-based approach, indie faves Grimes and Panda Bear. But the music itself — she calls it ambient pop — is immediate and uniquely hers. The hopeful “Take Care of Me” and heartbreaking “Dani” — highlights of both the show and the album — showcased her emotional range.
Marela delivered these songs without affectation — maybe to a fault. The dim lighting, absence of visuals and presence of a pair of backup musicians so quiet they were barely there suggested that as Marela makes her first commercial play, she’s having some separation anxiety about leaving the house-show scene she came up in. To be fair, though, this was just the first day of a long U.S. tour. Hopefully, by the time she gets back, her onstage confidence will have caught up to her immense talent.
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Co-headliner Jenny Hval, from Norway, sounded like a more dissonant PJ Harvey during the first half of her set, before going full-blown performance art for the second, sending chilled-out showgoers scrambling for their earplugs. It made for an incongruous pairing with the younger Marela, who’d be better complemented next time around by someone more melodic.