That the first solo release of Rachel Zeffira was subdued and gentle is somewhat less surprising given her work as half of Cat’s Eyes. She’s already demonstrated significant vocal restraint relative to the ornateness typically distinctive of opera singers, but some of her fans must have suspected that once she had complete control she would break away into what for her would be previously uncharted terrority. The Deserters is in many ways a one-woman show: Zeffira wrote the lyrics, composed the instrumentals, and produced the album. Despite this – or perhaps, considering the amount of work involved with a project such as this, because of it – Zeffira’s singing stays more or less within familiar boundaries.
Fortunately the instrumentals are a different story. Exquisitely crafted piano, strings, and the occasional synth and organ combine for powerful effect, and well balanced melodies guide the listener throughout the album’s ten tracks. Given Zeffira’s vocal fragility, her compositions often dominate the sound, and at times her voice melts completely in the instrumentals. This is particularly true in “Break The Spell,” which features an unusual degree of percussion, which concludes with a seamless transition from singing into harp chords.
The Deserters is relatively consistent, and while it lacks many noteable virtues it steers clear of any fatal flaws as well. A somewhat dissappointing vocal range and an unremarkable array of lyrics are saved by varied and thoughtfully composed instrumentals. Only one song on the album, “Front Doors,” is completely forgettable, and even it has a saving grace (although it is a petty one), because its title neatly symbolizes the central theme of exits.
By no means excellent, The Deserters is a solid collection of orchestra pop that proves Zeffira can stand on her own two feet and create something worthy of listening. If Zeffira can take the next step and bring her vocals on par with her instrumentals, the result would be a fantastic second album worthy of the singer’s main influence, Trish Keenan of Broadcast. A little more gusto could go a long way.