Comfortably one of the most gripping and remarkable releases of the year has actually been sat on the shelves of all good record stores in the Czech Republic for the last year but finally the rest of the world is now able to share in the radiant glory of Michaela Polakova and Natalie Kocab. With composer, Michaela, based in the UK and Natalie, the lyricist and singer, living in the Czech Republic, you would imagine the combination of their talents to be fractured; distant; patchwork. Far from it, this is a sublimely crafted album, guiding the listener down shadowy mazes and through rain-soaked cobblestones – it’s dark but it’s fascinating and almost tangy with talent.
Featured on the album is ex-Verve and Black Submarine guitarist, Nick McCabe, who fell in love with what the pair were doing to such an extent that he extended his guest slot to contributing to 8 tracks. Also on board was bass colossus, Fernando Saunders, whose CV, without drawing breath, includes significant stints with Lou Reed, Tori Amos, Jeff Beck, Marianne Faithful…well, no-one like a show-off so we’ll stop there.
Ellis Island is an album which once and for all demonstrates how classical instrumentation and composition can work seamlessly alongside contemporary popular music. Michaela’s string quartets provide the intoxicating gravity to the work, whilst Natalie’s vocals are stridently confident and eerily reminiscent of Patti Smith or, for learned musicologists, the much-missed Natasha Schneider from the band, Eleven. With McCabe on board offering the appropriately dark, angular tones that many a guitarist would slap a dirty great wailing guitar solo over the top of, they have a perfect ally. This is an album to sit in the dark and listen to through headphones, with a glass of something alcoholic and expensive, a past lifetime of regrets and a future filled with wonder.