Comparative Album Reviews: The Liminal States of Man Rei’s Cusp & Nailah Hunter’s Spells EP

“I set out to make spells, in the sense that each layer is one of the steps in incantation… It became about purpose… the procedure and the ritual, so that when it came to performing it, I wasn’t able to get into my head about it because I was just carrying out these steps. Each track is its own incantation, its own spell, its own world.” – Nailah Hunter

Nailah Hunter - Spells EP
Nailah Hunter; photograph by Robb Klassen

For centuries, witchcraft has been the sign and symbol of subversive and liminal pathways in life and art; the focal point of cultural anxieties and repressed dreams. Lately, the aesthetics of witchiness have enjoyed a major resurgence. Showing up in fashion and the popularity of herbs and crystals, its widespread influence impacts the world of ambient and downtempo music as well. Cusp, by Man Rei (Crash Symbols) and the Spells EP by Nailah Hunter (Leaving Records), are two manifestations of this mystical turn, each taking its own path to achieve a state of witchy wonderment.
Estonia’s Man Rei, also known as Kristin Reiman, constructed much of her instrumentation from field recordings. While these field recordings are urban in origin, their eerie soundscapes reflect the Baltic landscapes of her home country. Nailah Hunter, originating from LA, has a more pristine and delicate approach; she has stated that every layer of her tracks is a step in an incantation, and her musical sketches describe a warmer, brighter atmosphere.

Man Rei – Cusp (Crash Symbols)

Man Rei - Cusp Album Review

Woozy and phantasmagoric, Reiman’s songs evoke the feeling of a séance in a candlelit cabin, as filtered through eerie vocal loops and minimal backing tracks. Cusp‘s opening track, “Witchcraft & Stitchery,” describes her modus operandi — of weaving the atmosphere of a mystical fever dream using threads of whispered vocals and beatless instrumentation. “The Queer That is the Night” explores the transformative and uncanny power of nightfall over hazy and sighing instrumentation.

“The best part of the fever is the fever dream,” she sings on “Feverish” — and these lyrics are a fair summary of the mood of the record, which dwells in the hypnagogic headspace of a sweaty delirium. Cusp is a fitting title for a record that explores the in-between states of consciousness, reminiscent of half-remembered visions; Reiman is fascinated with the world of sleep and dreaming, and the ways in which waking life intrudes upon it.

Nailah Hunter – Spells EP (Leaving Records)

Nailah Hunter - Spells EP Album Review

Meanwhile, Nailah Hunter’s six-track Spells EP opens with “Soil: Song from Silence,” featuring an enchanted harp, and immediately announces the album’s purpose to create a ritualistic and contemplative ambience that evokes ancient rites and mysteries. Later tracks like “Ruins” add jazzy synthesizer washes to combine primeval and modern aesthetics, while “White Flower, Dark Hill” uses psychedelic tremolo to bring a quiet tension to the reflective surface of the soundscape.

Hunter states a desire to create songs as unique places, and accomplishes this with a lush blend of synthesized and organic instrumentation. She draws inspiration from baroque-era choral compositions and fantasy movie soundtracks — and as a synesthete, Nailah Hunter sees colors in her mind when hearing specific chord voicings and designs her songs accordingly.

While the concept of witchcraft unites both artists, their vision of what witchcraft represents is quite different. Hunter states the desire to create sonic places of rest, working towards tranquility in her sound design. Reiman, on the other hand, is inspired by restless dreams and unsettling half-awake reveries, employing dissonant chords with airy and ephemeral textures. If Nailah Hunter’s Spells are benedictions, Man Rei’s fevered conjurings create a more shadowy world and touch upon something far uncannier.

Man Rei - Cusp
Man Rei

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Man Rei- “The Queer That is the Night” Music Video

Nailah Hunter – “White Flower, Dark Hill”

Jackie Moffitt (any pronouns) is a 24 year old writer, actor, musician and filmmaker from Seattle, WA. Jackie has written and performed original works of theater as part of Theater of Possibility, an ensemble for autistic young adults. Their involvement in cinema began with their work at Reel Queer Youth as a teenager, and they have been volunteering at Northwest Film Forum since 2018 where they write film reviews. They have performed at the Vera Project Neurodiversity Nights events as a rapper and singer-songwriter. Jackie has also been involved in public speaking at the 2016 Three Dollar Bill Cinema auction and the 2018 ArtsWA Arts & Disabilities conference in Ellensburg, WA. Jackie centers queer and neurodivergent perspectives and life experiences in their multimedia art and activism work. When not writing film & music reviews and working on creative projects, Jackie enjoys running, swimming, studying linguistics and philosophy, and playing tabletop games.

Jackie Moffitt
jackie@redefinemag.net

Jackie Moffitt (any pronouns) is a 24 year old writer, actor, musician and filmmaker from Seattle, WA. Jackie has written and performed original works of theater as part of Theater of Possibility, an ensemble for autistic young adults. Their involvement in cinema began with their work at Reel Queer Youth as a teenager, and they have been volunteering at Northwest Film Forum since 2018 where they write film reviews. They have performed at the Vera Project Neurodiversity Nights events as a rapper and singer-songwriter. Jackie has also been involved in public speaking at the 2016 Three Dollar Bill Cinema auction and the 2018 ArtsWA Arts & Disabilities conference in Ellensburg, WA. Jackie centers queer and neurodivergent perspectives and life experiences in their multimedia art and activism work. When not writing film & music reviews and working on creative projects, Jackie enjoys running, swimming, studying linguistics and philosophy, and playing tabletop games.

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