Review – “Untitled” – Sister Ray

reviewed by Laura Stanley

Sister Ray’s (Ella Coyes) untitled live recording is a disassembling. Each warbling, unsteady utterance from Coyes is like the sharp left turn of an allen key. 2, 4, 5, 6 turns and the screw falls, rattling on the floor. More turns and another screw falls. There goes one leg. The process is repeated and another leg is removed. The rest of the structure (a desk, a table, a chair – complete this imagery as you would like) is disassembled and laid out neatly so each part can be seen as an individual or as a collective.

But Untitled is not a live IKEA demo. Coyes is dissembling her mind, body, and soul. Each screw or table leg is a linger emotion, a passing feeling, a wish for the future. What’s particularly incredible is that the majority of Sister Ray’s music is improvised. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she admits to the audience in the album’s preface “An Explanation”. What does end up happening is an instrumentally sparse (Coyes’ few guitar chords are all that accompany her) but emotionally dense 35-ish minute set of music. It’s a snarly, sometimes bluesy sometimes folky set that, for those who need comparisons, will especially appeal to fans of Julien Baker or Margaret Glaspy.

There are so many moments during Coyes’ pilgrimage inwards that standout. But to me the best parts, amongst all of the overwhelming grief – the roaming closer “7:27” really gets to me with its chorus, “Go ahead now, you might as well kill me. I’m better off dead, my body is dirty and I’m unworthy.” – are the flashes of hope and lambency. “Take what you like, I’ll be fine in a year or two,” Coyes quivers on “5:44,” like she’s realizing for the first time that she has this strength inside her all along. On “4:19” there’s another flash: “There was nothing that I could have done better.” With each iteration, Coyes gets more confident in her choices.

All that’s left to do is to rebuild. And rebuild she will.

Top Tracks: “4:19”; “5:07”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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