Vancouver-based composer, vocalist and violinist, Tegan Wahlgren, offers an art-pop gem with their debut LP, Bird/Alien. In its 11 tracks of soaring vocals, powerful violin arrangements and textured rhythms, Wallgrin paints a visceral picture of a paradoxical world— one that nods to the past and sounds like the future.
The remarkable scope of the record is referenced by its name. “Bird” represents the natural and familiar, while on the other side of the slash sits “Alien,” a symbol of the unknown. Wallgrin marries these two seemingly separate ideas with sound. The strings of their violin weeps and strains while an electronic drum beat reverbates underneath and choral singing rings out over grainy bass lines. Through thoughtful composition, Wallgrin plays with these two extremes in a way that, though sometimes unnerving, is consistently graceful.
The album leads with “O Harpy,” an apt introduction to what’s ahead. The song fades into an ominous chant that swells with strings while a chorus of vocals descend upon a beat made from the sounds of deep breathing. The tracklist progresses as a journey. It reaches a high with “Ae’aea,” a pop epic that uses a repeated vocal sample as a foundation on which a huge crescendo amasses. Wallgrin offers breaks from the intensity of the voyage with interludes at either end of the record. As a goodbye, “Exosphere” ends the adventure softly with gentle singing left almost bare save for a few delicate notes on the violin.
Lyrically, Wallgrin draws from the past to comment on matters of the present, employing figures of folklore to explain how magical and frightening life can be. With the haunting lines, “Daylight / Cold as the day you left,” in “Banshee’s Keen,” Wallgrin writes their own mourning song for the Irish mythological creature, a female spirit who was said to herald or “keen” the death of a family member.
Utilizing the new and the old, touching on love and loss, Bird/Alien is a powerful exploration of sound that challenges genre. Not totally strange, nor wholly harmonious, but full to the brim of both, it exists in a space of its own.