Taken from “The Mind is Trap”, out September 27th via Vitamin Concept Records.
“A solitary glass bead game of an album,” is how English composer Serafina Steer describes her new solo record, The Mind is a Trap. Like the classic novel by Herman Hesse, Steer’s music offers a kind of crystalline grace, richly allusive and strangely utopian.
After several years spent writing and playing bass with all female post-punk trio Bas Jan and the likes of Jarv..is, Trash Kit, John Foxx, Steer felt she needed “a new way to personally interact with music” and reconnect with the harp, an instrument she has played since childhood. Inspired by the likes of Áine O’Dwyer, Rhodri Davies, and the music of Japanese post-modernist composer Tōru Takemitsu, Steer ferreted herself away to a shed in Tottenham and began experimenting with the electric harp, pedals, extended techniques and drum machines. In finishing the record, underground mix/master genius Amir Shoat (Inga Copeland, Carla Del Forno, The Rebel) tightropes perfectly between enhancing sonic richness and retaining raw immediacy.
Listening to first single ‘Provides Common Ground’, a track inspired by an essay about music’s use in conflict resolution, is like slipping into a bubblebath, each diaphanous layer of plucked harp and electronic percussion a balm to the ears and an invitation to drifting.
The Mind is Trap is a suite of nine compositions in a wide range of styles, from the shimmering minimalism of ‘Time to Recover’, via the expansive electronic tones of opener ‘Whatsmystone’ and the abstract noisescapes of ‘Lapse’, to the almost Pet Shop Boys-ish groove of the title track. The Mind is a Trap takes the deft contrapuntal and conceptual ingenuity of modern classical artists from the Slip Discs and New Amsterdamstables, and combines it with an intimate, DIY sensibility of experimental lo-fi pop artists like Lucky Dragons and Hannah Peel. Bursting with ideas and touched by an obscure sense of mystery, The Mind is a Trap is destined to inspire the same cult-like devotion as Hesse’s own Glass Bead Game.
Serafina Steer has been a significant presence in the capital’s alternative music scene for over a decade. In-between sessions with artists such as Sean O’Hagan (The High Llamas), John T. Gast/Young Druid, Jarvis Cocker, Steve Mackey, Patrick Wolf, Cerys Matthews, Hannah Peel and Rozi Plain, she has produced a string of critically-acclaimed solo albums for Static Caravan and Stolen Recordings.
Swapping the harp for a bass guitar in 2016, she co-founded all female post punk trio Bas Jan who’s debut album ‘Yes I Jan’ (Lost Map Records) was in The Quietus’ top 100 albums of 2018, 9/10 Uncut, 4/5 Mojo- “beautifully fractured art pop”. Whilst working on solo material for The Mind Is A Trap, Steer has also spent much of 2018/19 developing material and performing with former Pulp frontman’s ongoing ensemble project Jarv..is , the first single of which ‘Must I Evolve’ was released May 2019.
The Mind is a Trap, then, represents a return in a number of senses – to harp playing, to her own compositions, and to the more introspective sound of her previous solo albums,The Moths Are Real and Change Is Good, Change Is Good. But it is also a new beginning and a new departure. The Mind is a Trap sees Steer spreading her wings as a composer in multiple bold new directions, at once more filmic, experimental and more pop than any of her previous work. Ideas expand and contract, feeling their way towards new forms. There is a ruminative, uncertain feel to the record. Nothing ever quite resolves; it hovers.“‘The Mind is a Trap’ is something my father said to me after a night in the pub,” Steer says, “when I had gone on and on and around and around my then exasperating and labyrinthine life predicament.” The Mind is a Trap, the album, may not offer any simple answers, a roadmap leading out of the labyrinth, but it certainly provides many fascinating questions.