It is a rarity to find it difficult to describe an artist. Once in a while, this happens because the sound is unique, perhaps nothing more. In other instances, there is an excellence and mystique so profound, it is impossible to sum up easily. It must be experienced, and even then, it may not be understood.
Nostalghia has been deemed "post-apocalyptic gypsy punk" -- this description is even listed on their official website. Although it seems an appropriate classification for the beautiful and frequently chaotic music the band makes, the bottom line is that some things simply cannot be classified.
On one hand, listeners can affirm that the Persian California native Ciscandra Nostalghia has a voice similar to Tori Amos, Bjork, and Kate Bush. Once in a while, I even hear similarities to the strange, enjoyable Sopor Aeturnus. Still, there is so much more to Nostalghia than the occasional comparison to other artists. Together with drummer Roy Gnan, the music created and displayed on Chrysalis is a phenomenon all its own -- addictive, forceful, maniacal, yet pure -- and one of the most important releases of 2014 for a plethora of reasons.
The word "chrysalis" means "a quiescent insect pupa, especially of a butterfly or moth," and somehow, the title is fitting for Nostalghia. The music on this album is dreamlike, innovative, and full of raw emotion. The powerful opener appropriately initiates the strange hybrid of desolation and triumph. Ciscandra's vocals are mesmerizing and passionate here, with her haunting echoes of "You cannot see me now / I'm off inside my mind / I will not speak to you / I will not find the time."
"Homeostasis" has an exotic energy and is one of the most uptempo, engaging selections from Chrysalis. Its pulverizing rhythm is accentuated by Ciscandra's wild, outstanding vocals in the chorus, which ranks amongst the catchiest things I have heard in years. "Stockholm Syndrome" and "Naked As a Hand" are both mellower offerings, showcasing how gorgeous and rich Ciscandra's voice can be -- shivering and Tori Amos influenced in "Stockholm Syndrome" and fading out eloquently with melancholic high notes at the end of "Naked As a Hand".
One of the absolute highlights of Chrysalis comes in the form of "Cool for Chaos", which pairs an eerie, dim, ominous piano melody with Ciscandra's compelling vocals, somehow simultaneously menacing and childlike in this instance. It is incredible when her tone quickly alternates from a hushed sigh to a piercing scream at the most unexpected moment -- this is the magic of Nostalgia, and the fact that this particular vocal style is only unleashed sparingly only adds to the shock and splendor of it all. What an impact the enigmatic "Cool for Chaos" makes.
"You & I" has instrumentation reminiscent of a jack-in-the-box toy being wound up, and Ciscandra sounds rather emotional; the contrast in dark tones and feelings throughout this album is something remarkable and almost impossible to capture in words. There is something striking and charming about the line "I think I'm starting to love you too much." 'Beauty in simplicity' is alive and well with this song.
Chrysalis is fortunately a consistently powerful listen, maintaining its intrigue with "Sunshiny Milk", a flawlessly arranged song with a most unforgettable chorus: "Pow, pow! I love you / pow, pow! it's true / I'm fucked in the head / but you know I love you." The bizarre vocal intonations Ciscandra unleashes here will resonate in listeners' minds without question. "I Am Robot (Hear Me Glitch)" is slightly repetitive with its dramatic chorus of "I am robot, hear me glitch / watch my tame my inner bitch", but its verses are lovely and it is somehow endearing in its repetition.
Chrysalis is a thoroughly marvelous release. Ciscandra Nostalghia is tremendously talented, and is guaranteed to captivate listeners of a number of musical genres. People into dreamy, gothic music could be enchanted, as well as those who can appreciate songs with strong, poppy hooks. The appeal of Nostalghia is potentially massive, which almost seems unlikely for a band with such an unapologetically odd sound at times. There is something quite special here, and I am looking forward to hearing much more from Nostalghia. I highly recommend Chrysalis -- experience the magic immediately.