An ethereal, unresolved presence fading into the stereo field, Hilja breathes into life with a haunted synth line and self-sampling vocal hook that instantly creates an enchanted space. Hilja is the debut album by Glasgow-based musician Maria Rossi aka Cucina Povera. Named after a style of southern Italian traditional cooking associated with precarity and making-do, a philosophy of simplicity and stoicism that applies perfectly to the spare but beautiful music Rossi experiments with. Hilja’s marriage of minimal synth, field recordings and the hymnal dexterity of Rossi’s vocal performances creates a new language, sometimes literally, to be spoken in some mythological Fourth World we’ve yet to create.
Originally from Finland, Rossi brings an acute sense of space, surroundings, and practicality to her working practice, with each composition often relying on a limited sound palette to create deeply affecting messages which transcend language. Cucina Povera’s power is to communicate purely, often down to the solo-choir nature of Rossi’s multi-layered voice, an achingly beautiful instrument which has seems to have an innate spirituality in its grain. The tension between the means and the end is at the heart of Cucina Povera, the invocation of a kind of secular spirituality at times using nothing but Rossi’s voice. Indeed there’s almost a Dogme-like purity to the arrangements: Elektra is a soothing song based around the lapping waves of Rossi’s wordless backing vocals and a simple field recording of stones knocked together. Kehoitus is completely a cappella, a haunted fairytale told in glossolalia, evoking a quasi-religious experience with very little.
For music often minimal and simple there’s a boldness that belies Hilja’s status as a debut. Rossi allows each word, each sound and rhythm to exist in its own space, finding its own relationship with its surroundings. Mesikämmenen Veisu is perhaps the most ecclesiastical sounding composition here; burbling water trickles below a virtuoso vocal, with incredible arrangements in several registers undulating above. A meditation to relieve hunger and restriction, it’s a perfect summing up of Hilja, a music ambient but completely earthed, finding enchantment in what you have to hand, the realism of magic, the magic of realism.