Ela Orleans is a Glasgow-based composer of experimental electronica. She has been releasing music under various guises for ages. She’s recorded scores for theatre productions, written an opera and lived in New York where she recorded avant-garde soundscapes and was on first-name terms with Thurston Moore. She’s just about the coolest figure on the Glasgow music scene right now, with everyone and anyone from Stephen Pastel to Ian Rankin lining up to sing her praises. Her latest offering, Upper Hell, is her 6th LP. She describes her music as ‘movies for ears’, which is just about the perfect summation.
Upper Hell was produced by Howie B, the mastermind behind some of the most popular leftfield albums of the past 20 or so years. Tricky’s Maxinquaye and Bjork’s Homogenic both benefited from his magic touch, wrapped in warm ‘n woozy ambient textures whilst at times still sounding darker than Black Sabbath Vol. 4. Howie is the go-to guy when mainstream acts look to reinvent themselves – U2, Annie Lennox and Everything But The Girl have all called upon his services when looking to take their music on an unexpected turn. Howie ended up working alongside Ela after his sister played him some of her stuff. Ela didn’t have to go to Howie and ask to be produced. He found her.
I need to declare some self-interest at this point. Many years ago, Ela and my sister were friends at Glasgow University, and I’ve kept a close ear to her music ever since. She was once round for Christmas dinner when returning to her native Poland wasn’t an option and we had great fun at her expense as she thought in Polish but swore in English while playing charades or some other daft game no-one plays any other time of the year. I couldn’t have forecast at the time that at some point in the future she’d be sound-tracking my commute to work and my wheezing bike runs around Ayrshire, but this week she’s all I’ve listened to.
Upper Hell is terrific. It’s full of glitchy, twitchy electronica, organic bass lines and cut ‘n paste beats. In fact, it’s exactly the sort of thing Radiohead have been praised and derided in equal measure for – there are no ‘tunes’ in the traditional sense, but you can easily lose yourself in its ebbing and flowing digital soundscapes. There’s even a spoken word track (2nd one in, River Acheron) that, just like OK Computer‘s Fitter, Happier… I kinda know I’m going to skip before too long. If Thom Yorke had been involved in Dark Floor, the opening track, the internet would’ve simultaneously wet itself and melted.
Ela Orleans – Dark Floor
I was playing this last night and Mrs Plain Or Pan popped her head round the door, with a screwed-up look on her face.
“This is Ela!” I said.
“Does it get any better?” asked the missus.
“No, it doesn’t,” I replied, with no hint of irony. “No. It doesn’t.”