Having met at the Cambridge Folk Festival three years ago, singer-songwriter Gina Leonard and producer Tom Fryer have combined forces to become The Desert. Driven primarily by the Gina’s acoustic guitar playing and vocals, their extra other-worldly quality is produced by spacey electronica and chiptune-style glitching to produce something with cinematic horizons.
The duo’s first release ‘Just Get High’ is a bewitching slice of folksy dream pop, with similarities to the slower parts of Alt-J’s back-catalogue. Gina’s imploring voice and plucked guitars are an entry point to a song whose drama gets slowly ramped up by backing strings and synths until it collapses in on itself, mimicking an undulating trip into the subconscious.
‘Playing Dead’ has a similar feel in its use of vox and guitar and is a little more straightforward in its structure, albeit more extensively cinematic. It recalls both the Spaghetti Western soundtracks of Ennio Morricone and the works of fellow Bristolians Portishead, before disrupting expectations with a final flourish of electronic noise.
But it’s on latest track ‘Soulmates’ that the pair really live up to their name. As crisp as a morning in December, but with an acrid, spare backing, Gina’s cynical lyrics are perfectly matched by hypnotic, dream-pop guitars and the absolute minimum percussion. And just as it sucks you in completely, it fizzes out with a pop.
It’s a curious, but compelling combination, very much like its creators. In interviews, Gina has admitted previously finding it difficult to collaborate with others, keeping herself and her guitar “behind closed doors”. But, with a producer and band creating a wider, more epic, world around her initial work, The Desert have found a way to make the songs really come to life.