Seattle based four piece Ephrata first formed in 2012 and this self-titled effort is both their first full length release and follow up to their debut EP I Scare No One. The band is centered on guitarist Brady Hall and vocalist Skadi von Reis, but this is an unit of equals who each bring unique qualities to the final result. The eleven songs on their first full album draw from a variety of influences varying on the cut but all come back to the common reference points of shoegaze guitars and sleek, elaborately presented vocals that strike an improbably beautiful note against the arrangements. The album’s subject matter isn’t particularly cheerful, but Ephrata doesn’t come at the songwriting’s dark mood with any sort of heavy hand. Their songwriting, instead, evidences a surprising amount of both musical and lyrical maturity and their vision for the band’s sound is remarkably well rounded and complete.
The bright onrush of energy carrying “Odds” out of the gates sparkles thanks to its crystalline guitar fills and drumming that packs a lot of zip. Bassist Jules Jordan deserves particular mention for her inventive playing that, nevertheless, never moves into ostentatious territory. “Tunguska” begins with a massive, slightly dissonant guitar fanfare and it continues even when vocals come into the mix. The thrashing rhythm section work gives the song an emphatic bottom end while Brady Hall’s brittle riffing keeps the texture intense and emotional. The luxurious unfolding of “Sea of Straight Faces” has a melodicism that isn’t in ready supply on the album to this point and Ephrata make the most of that moment. Skandi von Reis delivers a particularly affecting vocal that makes the most of the song’s changes.
“Fiend Folio” begins with some light synthesizer flourishes proceding the entrance of the vocals. Ephrata adopts a typically broad based approach to the singing and it produces the same ethereal, aurally pleasing results, but there’s clearly more thought put into the vocal arrangement here than many other songs on the album. The sense of them reaching with this one is palpable. The song has a near prog-rock stateliness. “What Is Mine” is powered by stuttering near-shuffle and a sing-songy vocal melody with the potential to exert hypnotic like effects over listeners. The guitar has a more orchestral presence on this track than some of the other songs and it makes for a nice change of mood and pace. The album’s penultimate tune “Evil Twin” has a feathery-acoustic air, unexpected retro keyboard touches like flashes of organ, and lush vocal harmonies that have a playful air despite the relatively dark subject matter. Ephrata concludes this release with “Sun Scenario”. It’s easily the longest song on the album and shows off the band’s skill for combining the cinematic with the musical – the song certainly does an exceptional job, both musically and lyrically, at invoking alien lands and dramatic experiences. The production, naturally, is responsible for much of this effect, but Ephrata are clearly talented at bringing together a number of disparate strains into a greater whole.