By Joel Silverstein
Four effects pedals and a white iPhone sat on a thin wooden chair in front Charlene Soraia at the Rockwood Music Hall Monday. She tweaked the knobs, adjusted the volume dial on her Raven hollow body electric guitar, and leaned into her U.S. debut.
The 23-year-old songstress flew in from her native London last Sunday evening, spotting Jupiter and Venus in the night sky before looking down to a twinkling, yellow city below.
"I could feel something bubbling about," she said, inspired by the apparition of New York before she touched down.
The sound of her playing reflects her fascination with the solar system: swells of reverb from crisp chords - that grow like ripples in a still pond - surround a nuanced and warm soul vocal.
She was playful with the crowd, and quipped at the sound engineer as he adjusted her mic-stand, "it's always good when a man stiffens a boom..."
On Monday, Soraia played a host of tracks from her debut album, Moonchild released on Peacefrog Records last fall. The track "Postcards from iO," named for one of Jupiter's moons, weaves a sense of passion and longing over a rhythmic finger-picked riff, and a muffled but hypnotic bass-drum tap. The album showcase's Soraia's technical prowess, shifting gears in songs like "Bike," to wispy vocalizations over an up-tempo jazz progression.
"I like a lot of right hand technique," she said after the show, milling about for an interview on Allen Street. Soraia picked up a guitar at age 5, and hasn't put it down. For secondary school, she attending the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology. Famously funded on contributions from Richard Branson and other British record companies, the school's alumni also include Imogen Heap, hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks and Soraia's classmate, Adele.
Soraia lives with synethesia, a neurological condition that causes involuntary sensory sensation in response to stimulation. In Soraia's case, she see's colors when she sings.
Such sensory experiences may have led to some of Soraia's more fantastical lyrics, like the fantasy-scape she creates in "Wishing (You) Well" - "We make dandelion water, amongst other gifts, for the cost of a kiss." Soraia also "doodles."
She was up late one night, until "silly o'clock," she said, and Mariah Carey came on TV. She started to play around with the upper register of her voice, and discovered she could match the diva's stratospheric notes.
Moonchild starts out there in orbit, among the moons of Jupiter.