Collaborative albums are often fraught affairs: posturing for lead billing; misunderstandings and, that legendary line – “musical differences” lurk around every corner. Not so here. Composer Michaela Polakova and singer/lyricist Natalie Kocab have united as a formidable musical force, transcending genres and cultural differences to construct a genuinely breath-taking album, one, which though shrouded in shadow, is staggeringly beautiful and affecting.
Ellis Island’s creeping, lustrous sound is based on Michaela’s intricately-weaved piano and string quartet compositions, with Natalie’s Patti Smith-esque vocals adding even deeper pools of intrigue and tension. The sound they create is reminiscent to Nick Cave’s explorations of the mind and the human spirit: dark and emotionally involving certainly, but also inspiring and defiant. Though based on classical foundations, Ellis Island is very much a contemporary experience, drawing on the art of cerebral storytelling through song of the 1970s and 1980s and the fusion of orchestra and guitar music which saw its resurgence in the 1990s.
The project is the brainchild of Michaela Polakova and Natalie Kocab, both hailing from the Czech Republic, though Michaela now lives in England. Michaela was classically trained at Prague’s conservatoire, also studying composition at King’s College, London. Natalie, a renowned writer of both books and plays in her homeland, and Michaela first met during the making of the album, “Hummingbirds in Iceland”, which received rave reviews in Europe. This led to them collaborating “Ellis Island”, demonstrating their evematuring sound and leading to other notable artists contributing, namely The Verve’s guitarist, Nick McCabe and long-time Lou Reed bassist, Fernando Saunders.
In need of a guitarist to add to their textures of sound, they drew up a list of potential artists, little expecting that the top name of their list would be so enamoured with what they were creating that an expected brief guest appearance quickly led to him taking the project to his heart, contributing to eight of the album’s tracks. Similarly, Fernando’s significant experience working with some of music’s great storytellers, from Lou Reed to Marianne Faithful and Tori Amos, says much about how highly he regards Michaela and Natalie’s work. The album was mixed by John Catlin at Flood and Alan Moulder’s Assault and Battery Studios. “Ellis Island” is a perfect listening experience for lovers of 1990s indie music; orchestral rock; Nick Cave; Tom Waits, and Lou Reed.
Listen to the Official Audio for Underwater below: