28 Jan 2022
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Henika - Album Review: Strange Creatures

16 Nov 2021 // A review by Kev Rowland

It is safe to say that I listen to more varied music than the average person, and I have no idea how many albums I have reviewed over the last 30+ years but it is many thousands, and I have written well in excess of a million words on the subject. This means I am rarely surprised, and it is not often I come across something and can honestly say I have never heard anything quite like it before, but this is one of those times. Apparently when Henika released her EP she wanted to perform it live but had problems keeping a band together and wanted to become more independent. She wasn’t happy with using harsh electronics, so what could she use which was more organic? Of course, birdsong.

Henika began compiling field recordings from predator-free sanctuaries, with the majority sourced from Tiritiri Matangi, an island sanctuary in the Hauraki Gulf where she spent three days sleeping in the DOC Hut, getting up to capture the dawn chorus. In fact, she felt she was listening to a finished track which just needed some structure and lyrics, and therefore Dawn Chorus opens the album. "The Tui is the ultimate beatboxer and dominates the rhythm tracks. The Korimako, with its bell-like tones, added haunting hooks. The Kokako with its long mournful tones suited layering into chords. The most difficult part to fill was in the low end until I came across some recordings of the male Kakapo 'booming.' This formed the bass on some of the tracks. I filled out the tracks with synths, guitars and double bass all of which I performed and recorded in my home studio.”

Henika has a beautifully clear and fragile vocal style, both innocent and worldly, and the way she has weaved the birdsong into the songs make them as one. This is not music with snippets of sound added, they are at the centre, with the arrangement just bringing them to life. My favourite is Forest Nocturne, although to be honest I am still trying to work out if it is due to the wonderful vocals that are full of longing, the superb double bass (with some wonderful walking sections) or that the morepork is featured front and centre. Where we live now on South Island, we never hear them, but when I lived up North, I used to sit on the deck with a glass of something just listening to them call to each other. I was entranced by the beauty and the spell they created, and this is why this album works so very well indeed, as Henika recognised that and made the calls the most important element.

We get different styles through the album, from blues (that double bass again, wow), to pop and even Latin. But throughout it all is the sound of skies, with Henika wrapping her arrangements into the chorus from above to create something that is both very unusual and incredibly inviting. This really is a superb undertaking, with strong arrangements and delicate production which makes this an album for all seasons. If you are planning to spend time away from Aotearoa then take this with you, as it is like taking the country with you in an audio file. I love it.

Rating: ( 5 / 5 )
 

About Henika

Henika is the childhood nickname of Henrieta Tornyai, a Slovak born singer songwriter based in Auckland. Her sound is a complex mix of alternative rock, folk and jazz, influenced by artists like Jeff Buckley, Nick Cave and PJ Harvey.

Henika is a multi-instrumentalist, playing guitar, bass guitar and upright bass. Inspired by Jimi Hendrix, she took up the guitar as a child. She then went on to study jazz at university level, ultimately travelling to the United States to study bass with jazz great Richard Davis.

Upon returning to New Zealand, Henika began working on her own original music. In 2015, she was awarded a grant to record and make a music video by NZ On Air. She held the number one spot on theaudience.co.nz chart for December and January with her winning song. The song was produced Andrew Buckton who has worked with such acts as Midnight Youth, The D4, Stereogram, Neil Finn and many more.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Henika

Releases

Strange Creatures
Year: 2021
Type: Album
Henika
Year: 2016
Type: EP

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