Album Review: Σtella – Up and Away (Sub Pop)

by | Apr 16, 2024 | Album Reviews, Blog

Σtella‘s Up and Away, her debut with the esteemed Seattle imprint Sub Pop Records (Nirvana, Mudhoney, Sleater-Kinney), marks a turn in her artistic trajectory, deepening her engagement with her Greek roots while expanding her palette with broader, more eclectic musical influences, including threads of mid-century Americana and candid lyrical introspection. The album situates Σtella within a lineage of current artists who blend cultural heritage with contemporary sounds, echoing the likes of Khruangbin or Gaye Su Akyol. On Friday, April 19, Σtella will play in Bucharest for the first time as she comes to Control Club.

Up and Away emerges from the influence mix that has always pervaded Σtella’s music—from the synth-pop evident in her earlier albums to her deeper exploration of Greek musical traditions in this latest work. Her prior albums, such as The Break (Arbutus Records, 2020), showcased an aptitude for catchy, synth-based hooks and modern pop. With Up and Away, however, there is a shift towards a more organic sound. 

The album’s production, in collaboration with Tom Calvert, also known as Redinho, brings a nuanced layering that complements Σtella’s vision. Calvert’s production is a reverent ode to the past, channeling the essence of a lost 1960s gem discovered in an Athenian record box—like Grigoris Bithikotsis or Tzeni Vanou. The integration of traditional Greek instruments, like the bouzouki played by Christos Skondras and the kanun by Sofia Labropoulou, infuses things with a palpable sense of place and history.

Up and Away opens with its eponymous track, immediately establishing its lush mood. Σtella’s voice, a blend of clarity and warmth, rides a wave of strings and dense harmonies. The track sets a precedent for an album that delivers a journey through the highs and lows of emotional entanglement

Tracks like Nomad and Another Nation highlight Σtella’s adeptness at narrative storytelling through music, weaving personal reflections with broader cultural themes. Nomad is a meditative exploration of identity and belonging, set against slow-moving beats, textural depth, and the lazy thrum of cicadas. Another Nation, on the other hand, uses upbeat, funk-laden Meditteranean rhythms to express Σtella’s aspirations for global musical dialogue and her ambition to transcend geographical boundaries.

Manéros then stands as an instrumental odyssey in itself, stringing listeners along a narrative spun by bouzouki strings that seem to dance with the flames of old romance. The track is a masterful showcase of Σtella’s ability to fuse traditional Greek instrumentation with her vocal narratives, even when she lets the music speak solely through its melodies.  

The album’s thematic journey is beautifully encapsulated in Titanic, where the end of a relationship is portrayed not just with melancholy but with a hopeful undertone. This is also true for The Truth Is, which builds to a poignant emotional climax without the need for explicit lyrics.

The thematic journey of Up and Away culminates in the final tracks, particularly Is It Over, which serves as a poignant closure to the album’s narrative arc. Here, the fusion of Greek musical tradition and pop elements is most effective, encapsulating the enduring, albeit conflicted, nature of the emotional themes explored. It’s a contemplative finale, pondering the enduring echoes of past loves in a way that resonates long after the last note fades.

With Up and Away, Σtella not only revisits the musical landscapes of her heritage but also redefines them, inviting listeners to explore a fusion of the traditional and the contemporary. The album is both a homage to her Greek roots and a bold step into the broader world of pop music. Up and Away is a journey for those drawn to the intersections of culture, history, and music.

Subscribe To Control Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news from Control and be the first to find about our new events,

You have successfully subscribed to Control Newsletter

Share This