‘Instar’ means ‘a phase between two periods of moulting’ - the shedding of feathers or skin to allow for something new, changing and morphing to welcome the next phase. That’s what what the debut solo record from Vesper Wood represents. “I recognise that this is a growing album,” she says. “It’s about learning.
As one half of electro-pop duo Kaleida, her elegiac voice was heard by millions the world over as their devastating and sublime song ‘Think’ was the highlight of the soundtrack to ‘John Wick’ – with its emotional starkness and simplicity at odds with the violence of the film itself. Other tracks found similar fame on ‘Atomic Blonde’ and ‘CSI’ before their breathtaking album ‘Tear The Roots’ was released to critical acclaim in 2017. Now, Wood is here with ‘Instar – her most revealing, raw and real work yet.
Born in the US, she started singing in her early years as part of a church choir while also being drawn to the Appalachian ballads and old Kentucky folk music of her father’s home. In her teens she became a fan of artists like Björk whose idiosyncrasies pushed Wood to find a voice and path of her own. She never studied music, but learned from listening until making music of her own became “a burning desire that got too loud to ignore”.
She moved to Oxford to study where she fell in love with UK before returning for a Masters at the London School of Economics and staying to work in the environmental field – still a preoccupation and passion of Wood’s. While working in Indonesia, the remote seclusion found her able to get to grips with her songwriting and artfully crafted electronica before being connected to Cicely Goulder upon her return to London, when Kaleida was born. After stunning festival crowds around the globe, touring with Roisin Murphy and dropping a string of well-received EPs and soundtrack contributions before releasing their crystalline debut album, Wood found the time and the need to break out on her own.
Recorded through Spring and Summer 2018 in Bristol with producer Ali Chant [whose credits include PJ Harvey, John Parish, Perfume Genius, Aldous Harding, Soccer Mommy and Jenny Hval], ‘Instar’ was fuelled and inspired by Wood’s own profound experiences.
“Maybe there’s a healing presence to the album,” she says of the record’s character. “A protective spirit. Over the past year I was working through a lot of personal things - fertility problems and issues with my reproductive system - and making this really helped me to process things. There’s a lot in here about being a woman and women’s health.”
“It’s important to me that we have the ability to talk about it. And maybe there’s a healing feminine spirit to it.”
On the stirring and direct single ‘The Wall’, Wood calls upon the gender politics of the biological clock. “Crush my womb with shame,” she pines, facing the painful truth of how there’s “No redemption or protection in the game of luck.” A similar intensity follows in ‘Chain Of Heat’, cursing the cruelty of nature as she asks, “Oh what is sigh and plea when the pulse won’t be?” Described by Wood as dealing with her “journey with self-hate and codependency,” ‘Descend’ searches for whatever lay beyond the endless sea and horizon of heartache.
A gossamer touch makes Vesper Wood’s organic and atmospheric sound all the more arresting. With just keys, strings and her voice at the forefront, there’s a vulnerability and fragility that echoes through these recordings with such conviction that they could never be considered a weakness.
The simplicity of her approach blossoms with the opulence of feeling that you travel throughout the album. It’s a wrought journey, but while there’s a longing and a sadness, ‘Instar’ is Wood finding a sense of place: a better place and one of strength.
“The endless avenue, that leads into your heart, I will hold it up, hold it up, strong” – Homing