Few folks in dark music have as many irons in the fire as Zanias, aka Alison Lewis. In addition to all manner of solo and collaborative projects past and present, the Aussie expat to Berlin has been at the forefront of that city’s techno body music scene as the impresario behind the vaunted Fleisch Records. That position makes her recent run of solo records all the more striking by virtue of how different their concerns are from the dense, concrete kicks which commonly come to mind when Berlin techno is mentioned. With its fluid pop sounds and direct, heartfelt tone, new LP Chrysalis shows off a whole new dimension of Lewis’ talents as both a producer and vocalist.
From the opening tinkling arpeggios of “Simulation” and through to the almost bhangra-like stutter of the closing title track, it’s apparent that Chrysalis is as much of a pop record as anything to which Lewis has lent her hand. Melodies and immediacy are given priority, but it’s not just hooks for their own sake which are on display. It’s tempting to suggest that there’s a bit of a hyperpop influence on Chrysalis, but that’s only by inference; like that genre Zanias is calling back to a halcyon wave of classic rave tracks, but unlike producers seeking to reinstantiate that era of hedonism in all its excess, Zanias’ nods to it flit about in the corners of tracks such as “Burial” and “Chrysalis”, like half-lost memories of parties and lovers past. Indeed, finding musical means of connoting memory and past selves makes up a good portion of the record, with “Departure” conjuring the same decidedly domestic ghosts as Kate Bush’s “Watching You Without Me”.
Chrysalis is a record as different from its predecessors Unearthed and Into The All as those two records were from one another, if not more so. Sure, like the former Chrysalis has plenty of immediate beats which provide structure to its tracks. But the rubbery kicks of “Closing” shift to the back of the track once Lewis’ vocals take flight, at times traipsing into house-styled melisma bordering on Future Sound Of London. And sure, like Unearthed the new record uses some ethereal and neo-classical sounds to conjure grand and evocative moods. But the dreamy, reflective “Teatree” has a wounded simplicity that’s far more direct and plainspoken than anything on that record.
Through minimal wave to pure techno to grandiose experimentalism, we’ve seen Zanias work in a range of styles over the past decade without ever diminishing her own personality and presence on whichever of her records you’d care to name. It’s a testament to her songwriting that that personality shines through not only as clearly but as genuinely as it does on Chrysalis, a record operating in the sort of pop territory where honesty is often traded for accessibility. Recommended.