It begins with a primal scream, through what might be a deserted forest, before the day dawns. "The sun eats the mountains, their faith eats the sun."
Thus begins the third solo album by Ingrid Lukas, an Estonian living in Zürich, Switzerland. "Demimonde", released earlier this year, is the kind of long-player you thought artists didn't make any longer, one where each track interweaves, not so much telling a shared narrative as gradually painting a dark Rothko canvas for your imagination.
While Lukas's solo studio work, beginning with 2009's "We Need to Repeat" and continuing with her major-label album "Silver Secrets", released on Universal, both showed talent and originality, "Demimonde" feels like a cathartic release, something Lukas had been itching to make from the start, that she now feels she has to tools to put into practice. The release of emotions was apparent in a standout performance at Tallinn's Jazz Kaar music showcase in May of this year, when Ingrid performed alongside her band, and Tallinn's Twisted Dance Company, who put an interpretive visual spin on the deep, dark songs.
No better is this catharsis expressed than in "Tear Out", the third track on the album, and what could be described as a "fuck you" track, in which Lukas exhorts the subject to "go tear out my name and number from your little black book", but not before she has instructed that person to perform a series of pointless activities, such as growing "a beard for the sake of art". Propelled by a beat somewhere between hip-hop and trip-hop from longtime collaborator, drummer Patrick Zosso, it's a gem of a track.
"Unicorn" is perhaps the heartbeat of the album, a track that sketches out a kind of Narnia, where anything can happen - only this is no Christian kingdom as imagined by CS Lewis. Rather, you need to "dance a little bit deeper, down down to the demimonde."
As Samantha Morton's traumatised precog in Minority Report repeated to Tom Cruise's framed cop as a mantra, you have a choice. Muze, a track that was also released in Estonia as the Estonian-language single "Võimas Aparaat", talks of freedom, but in an uncertain moral framework. It's probably the catchiest song on the album, and lent itself well to radio rotation.
"Sinu Poole" is a ghostly, operatic wisp of a track, with the thinnest of machine beats in the latter part, but essentially guided by Lukas's stunning, classically-trained, soaring choral voice. The mounting electronic interference and heavy breathing at the end of the track suggest either the light at the end of the tunnel, or a gathering storm. It's up to you to decide.
In my book, it was probably a storm that was building, as "Alive" is the kind of uplifting hymn that reminds you are alive, while also reminding you of the responsibilities that brings. "We need to face it," Lukas sings, her voice multi-tracked and foreboding, as you imagine your worst fears.
"We Are Touching Heaven" begins with similar cries of far-off sprites to the opening track, but then develops on a more structured, electro path, the synth bass never undermining Lukas's breathy whispers at the lower part of her register, the lyrics almost rapped, before she, and the listener, soars for the chorus. As the cymbals crash on the improvised drumming and we reach the climax of the track, it's easy to imagine scaling a peak and seeing something at the top that surprises you.
"Nurse Your Ribs" is elegiac and brooding, while the computerised minimalism harks back to an album that came out in 2013 and shocked listeners in the way this one might you, VV Brown's complete volte-face, "Samson and Delilah", which still sounds like the most atmospheric and chilling of late-night listens even now.
"Water" is perhaps the most recognisable continuity between "Demimonde" and Lukas's earlier work. However, this latest release must be judged as a standalone effort - Lukas clearly agrees, performing her recent concerts with no tracks from her earlier releases punctuating the new music, which has a distinct feel from anything else she has released. With its talk of "tears of strength, tears of weakness, tears of laughter, tears of joy," it also summarises an album that, depending on how you view it, could be about the cunning, cowardice, triumph, or bravery of the human spirit.
Buy the album here, or on iTunes, or CD.