London-based singer/soundscaper Penelope Trappes creates sonic works of art more than writing songs in the conventional sense. Ambiance is not the totality of what she does, but it’s an essential element in the music she creates. A brief summary of her approach can be heard in “Nervous,” the leadoff track and first single on her new album, Penelope Three. Its arrangement is minimal but every sound is well placed, and though its production has more in common with electronic music, the core of the song is in the same shadow-filled zip code as an artist such as like-minded goth sound world-builder Hilary Woods. Trappes’ hushed voice flutters over everything like a fall chill in the air. Her music speaks to the idea that music is one of the best forms of ritual. If we define magic as focused intention then the vibrations of music are the incantations. The intent here lies in the themes of the song, and in the third chapter in Trappes’ musical trilogy focusing on her struggles, she invokes the mood of the underworld.
Some spells are simpler than others. “Forest” is haunting and minimal, with the beat as present as a dying heartbeat fading into the void. “Fur & Feather” works off a couple chords she lets hang, while the droning vocals would not sound out of place on a David Lynch soundtrack. She finds an effective balance of song and surreal with “Red Yellow,” carrying a subtly, sultry hint of blues while still holding true to her atmospheric vision. Meanwhile, “Halfway Point” is so atmospheric it is almost not there; reverb blurs the lines to the point of obscuring what instrument is playing. It’s more about the sound than the song, but there’s still enough song to prevent it from fading into the background. She leans heavier into melody “Blood Moon,” which carries more movement in the sounds she colors the song with. It is engaging, even hooky, without having to conform to a mainstream sound.
Heavy atmosphere is what Trappes does best, but when she actually commits to writing more of a conventional pop song, she excels. A haunting album with an emphasis on the sonic realm as much as the actual structures of the songs, Penelope Three is a mesmerizing trip into the void—a document of experimental wonderment with a side of evocative darkness.