On her third release Unwoman (nee Erica Mulkey) has gotten clever: instead of giving us one full length she has given us two distinct EPs. But don't fret, either way "Blossoms" is a beautiful listen.
The "Side A" half of the album (the first six songs from "Compliance" to "The Next Flower") cover similar ground to her previous outings. Unwoman mixes her skilled cello and keyboard work with her lovely voice and electronic beats. This isn't some EBM collection, though. The beats are buried, Erica is smart enough to know that her voice and her cello/keyboard work are her strengths. There are always several things going on but "Side A" never sounds cluttered, she knows how to produce her own work to bring out a wonderful clarity. The end result is pretty, somber and contemporary most akin to the "darkwave" set. Yet more understated, less bombastic, than many who work in that genre.
I found the first half of "Blossoms" to be quite enjoyable but I'm in love with "Side B". Here Unwoman puts aside the beats and, until the final track "What Lips My Lips Have Kissed", even the keyboards. "Side B" consists (musically) of just Mulkey's voice and cello work, and both are excellent. I love the rich, earthy sound of the cello and her vocals are a nice counterpoint to the deep solidity of the instrument. Erica's voice soars and oscillates with a heroic, almost cinematic quality. On the "Side B" songs (where Erica sounds most exposed) the vocals take on something approaching a Celtic or Medieval quality. Perhaps it's the sound of such a beautiful voiced matched with only a stringed accompaniment the makes me draw this conclusion but there is a madrigal (and magical) character that I hear.
But all of that is just musically. Lyrically Unwoman has a potent collaborator on "Side B". All of the lyrics for these eight songs are taken from the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950). Millay's words are both contemporary and timeless, universal in their basic emotion. You'd have to be unhuman to not understand her sorrow and perspective. As Mulkey's voice compliments her cello so Mulkey's talents compliment the words of Millay. It says a lot about Unwoman that her work can hold up to the genius of Millay.
Visually the packaging for "Blossoms" works with what is found in the music. The colors are dark, but not too dark. There's a rustic coppery blue, a sumptuous burgundy, pale skin and the burnished tones of roses and the cello. The photos are elegant, not too soft nor harshly high contrast. Even the fonts on the CD have been carefully chosen (Erica even lists what they are, showing how much care she took with everything related to this recording). All together the visual elements have been as nicely composed as the music on "Blossoms".