It takes Briana Marela precisely one minute to firmly establish a sonic aesthetic. All Around Us opens with 60 seconds of looping vocal flutters and coos that slowly grow from mere chirps to a lush canopy of delicate electronic indie pop. When discernible lyrics finally pop up (on “Follow It”), the opening lines could easily double as a description for the experience of listening to the album: “You could get caught up in it / Feel the fall and see if it fits.”
To record All Around Us, Marela traveled to Iceland to work with Sigur Rós producer Alex Somers, and the ethereal fingerprints of Sigur Rós’s influence abound on the album. Marela and Somers account for the majority of the soundscape, picking up a myriad of instruments (piano, synth, glockenspiel, pump organ, synth bass, gongs, etc.) to create a heavenly spectrum of harmony. Marela’s light and breathy voice always remains the centerpiece, but the stacking of sounds gives All Around Us its gorgeous character.
The quick changes in layering achieves a looping pop-friendly version of rock’s often-employed loud-quiet dynamic, opening up things up in sudden bursts of overwhelming color that imbue songs like “Surrender” an epic scale. And while the loops often lead to a dense sonic scene, Marela proves equally adept at navigating incredibly sparse musical environments. On “Dani,” discreet string arrangements create a distant tranquility as she sings like she’s lost in a cave and calmly trying to echolocate her way out.
Marela’s perspective as a lyricist melds perfectly with the music she creates. While not carefree, there’s a hopeful innocence to her worldview. Whether longing for mere companionship (“Don’t come back to my bed tonight / I just need a friend tonight” on “Friend Tonight”) or something deeper (“If you love me say it now and mean it” on “All Around Us”), there’s a nurturing vibe that abounds (see: “Take Care of Me”). The dream of more meaningful camaraderie rules the day, as she expresses clearly on “I Don’t Belong to You”: “It’s not a competition, everyone has music within them.”
Like a child grabbing whatever’s near when bundling up to go out in a snowstorm, not every layer on All Around Us is strictly uniform, but they all work together to keep the body warm.