Essential New Music: Elena Setién’s “Moonlit Reveries”

Elena Setién started making her last album, Unfamiliar Minds, just as COVID shut things down, and the stuckness of that time manifested in its arrangements. The Basque singer/songwriter approached its follow-up ready to put stasis behind her. What better way to get things moving than to get into the groove?

Moonlit Reveries isn’t exactly clubby, but it does assert more forward motion than its 2022 predecessor. The propulsive agent on two-thirds of its songs is Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, who first gave Setién license to use beats that he had posted online, then adorned her partially completed songs with additional percussion. He signals each change on “Mothers,” a meditation upon life cycles. And Kotche’s martial snare beat keeps “Surfacing” (whose words articulate the perspective of a body dislodged from a river bed) in constant motion. Even when Kotche isn’t audible, Setién’s attraction to rhythm is. On “Losing Control,” plucked violins set a brisk pace, and a flickering synthesized tone hovers around her voice like a hummingbird.

But Setién is still a singer and crafter of words. The instrumentation, mainly her own guitars and keyboards, leaves plenty of space for her voice to maneuver and project. Correspondingly, Setién’s singing uses tonal intrigue, timbral warmth and gently insistent cadences to draw the listener into the songs’ subject matter, which for the most part involves figuring out how to negotiate uncertainty and confusion. But even when the singer seems unsure what to do next, the music knows where to go. [Thrill Jockey]

—Bill Meyer