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Review: Valerie Renays debut solo album Your Own Shadow. Words by Barnaby William Thornton

Who better to review the solo efforts of electronic pop chanteuse Valerie Renay on her debut ‘Your Own Shadow’ (co-produced by Alexander Paulick-Thiel) than a longtime follower of her previous band, Noblesse Oblige? Self-confessed shady character and former Madame Jojo’s dweller, Barnaby William Thornton, is here to shed some light on the stunning new release.

When you first venture out solo (after over a decade of being in a tightly fused two-piece band), one thing becomes abundantly clear: “artistic vision” extends way beyond the path you see before you, or the direction of your music. In fact, the direction is not so much beyond as it is inward… a ruminative process that could quite naturally bring fear and burning doubt to the fore, following you as it reflects against every surface, at any stage, wherever you look.     

However, if the new limitations and expectations that come with being a solo artist cast any form of foreboding shadow over Valerie Renay’s career, then she soon found a fascinating and head-on way to paint over each flat aphotic limb - a lesson in exorcism much like squeezing neon from a pipette in the dark, one sprawling and electric drop at a time... 

Instead of waiting to see where the perils of introspection might have lead her while making her debut album, ‘Your Own Shadow’​, Valerie Renay clearly learned the dimensions of her demons and how to walk and grow in towering strength ​beside them. After all, you don’t need to worry about what’s around the corner, if you’re the one already carving the mountain’s edge. Which is why each of the album’s seven tracks favour the freedom of raw fluidic soundscapes, over common song structures. Enough vulnerability nests in their rough edges and gloomy nooks to deduce that the very idea of even producing ‘​Your Own Shadow’​ didn’t come without its grand hesitations. However, the melodies and lyrics spill and throb like a slowly-waking volcano, as if the album’s inception had been lying secretly dormant far longer than we’ll ever know. 

While Valerie may have navigated the foundations and prismatic bones of each soundscape alone (at the risk of feeling lost in her solitude), her payoff is that each track’s sonic terrain tells a previously uncharted tale we cannot help but accept the invite to, joining her in the post-Noblesse Oblige journey. This act of being lulled into another world is none more evident than on first single, ‘Sailor’. Blissed-out guitar lines plunge deep into a current of bubbling synths and soft coos, steadily ebbing and echoing past your ears, the same way the nighttime roadside vanishes then reappears on either side of a car’s cruising headlights. We’ve more than likely driven off the ocean cliff to our deaths but hey, who’s to say? 

‘Speed of Blue’ (with lyrics by Ian Pickering of Sneaker Pimps) twinkles and pulses, another deceptive beacon plotted somewhere between jagged rock and smooth waters. Meanwhile ‘Kick Again’ is equal amounts muster and menace, as Valerie brashly takes the reins (“​the rage inside no longer hides / you’ve waited long enough / it’s time to kick again"). ‘Rough and Ready’ draws on Violator-era Depeche Mode and cuts it with heavily seductive breaths, plus distorted Planningtorock-styled vocal elastics. Yet, as much as the song’s flashing skin suggests it’s baiting you for some dirty action - when juxtaposed with the lyrics - its protagonist seems more blissfully submissive to malaise or stricken with a hangover, than anything else (unexpectedly flipping both you and the song on your backs).

When you’re yet to prove you can stand on your own two feet, everyone just assumes you must still be crawling. This doesn’t seem the case for Valerie Renay. To convey any feelings of emptiness and limbo-induced low self-worth that she may have experienced at the start of her journey, she would rather have you both suspended in mid-air together, than lying on the floor. Just go back and close your eyes while listening to album opener ‘Hollow’ and you’ll find yourself being slowly lowered on a rope by a looping beat, inching your way deeper into the heart of her architectural premise and ​Your Own Shadow​’s raison d’​ê​tre. What starts off as a cavernous intro with ethereal vocals, soon grows walls of muscle and sinew, as Valerie repeatedly calls out, “... ​can you hear me now?”  Bravely bringing her biggest fear to light, in full colour, for all of us to see and admirably hold onto. 

Pre-order ‘​Your Own Shadow​’ (out Sept 7th) via Bandcamp here: http://valerierenay.bandcamp.com/album/your-own-shadow
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