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Semkina, Marjana: Sleepwalking

I really wanted to like this album. I absolutely adore Marjana Semkina's haunting, beautiful vocals in iamthemorning, which she forms with piano extraordinaire Gleb Kolyadin. When I heard that she was to release a solo album my heart was instantly filled with excitement, fueled further by the excellent lead single of "Everything Burns". But then Sleepwalking came out. And all my hopes deflated like a balloon, mercilessly pierced with the sharpest of needles.

This album - or at least a majority of it - can be described as what being bored sounds like. I wouldn't blame anyone who, after twenty minutes of nothingness oozing from their speakers, decided to turn Sleepwalking off in favour of any of the chamber prog duo's albums. I nearly did it myself. But I was determined to go through the whole package, and the second half pleasantly surprised me. It's not enough to justify the atrocious first six tracks, though.

The best out of the "boring bunch" is "Dark Matter", just barely saved by Vlad Avy's subtle acoustic guitar work. Sadly, it's the only one from the first six that is worth listening to. Songs like "Am I Sleeping or Am I Dead", "Ars Longa Vita Brevis", and "Lost at Sea" put the "Sleep" in Sleepwalking. After over ten listens of the album, I cannot remember one note from any of the aforementioned tracks. "Turn Back Time" manages to pull the listener out of Morpheus's firm grasp with a great, dynamic instrumental, but it falls apart quickly - Semkina's vocals sound completely out of place here, as if she hasn't been listening to the backing track while recording.

It's not all awful, though. "Skin" provides surprisingly cheerful sounds of piano and guitar and a powerful chorus, where Marjana finally starts to unleash her voice. Better late than never, right? The three-minute crescendo of "How to Be Alone" builds up to a short electric guitar lick, which combined with strings and vocals provides an immensely satisfying payoff. "Everything Burns" might be the darkest track Semkina has ever written, and it's a great one at that. The instrumental would not feel out of place in a horror movie. "Mermaid Song" instantly envelops the listener in sounds of piano and strings, and slowly builds up further and further... And when Marjana finally lets her beautiful voice soar in the finale, it can only be described as breathtaking. "Still Life" does not disappoint either - the keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess makes a guest appearance here, and his piano work here (luckily) does not hint that he's a member of Dream Theater. Combined with Semkina's sombre vocals, it creates a heartwrenching, melancholic finale.

The whole album can be summed up in one sentence: "Too much sleep, too little walking." The second half would have made a near-perfect EP and a stellar start to Marjana's solo career. Sadly, the remaining twenty minutes of Sleepwalking sound like leftovers from iamthemorning's recording sessions. From "Skin" to "Still Life" Semkina's solo debut is incredible, but it's not enough to put a listener through twenty minutes of boredom before the brilliance finally hits.

Marjana Semkina - vocals, backing vocals, lyrics 
Vlad Avy - guitar 
Grigoriy Losenkov - piano (1, 4, 7, 8, 10), keyboards (2, 5), bass guitar (8, 9) 
Svetlana Shumkova - drums (8, 9) 
Jordan Rudess - piano (11) 
Craig Blundell - drums (3, 7) 
Nick Beggs - bass guitar (3, 7) 
 Strings Ensemble: 
St. Petersburg Orchestra "1703"

Track listing:
1. Dark Matter
2. Am I Sleeping or Am I Dead
3. Turn Back Time
4. Ars Longa Vita Brevis
5. Invisible
6. Lost at Sea
7. Skin
8. How to Be Alone
9. Everything Burns
10. Mermaid Song
11. Still Life

Added: October 31st 2020
Reviewer: Maciej Slowik
Related Link: Artist Facebook Page
Hits: 564
Language: english

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