Sometimes the best way to find direction is to get lost. Singer-songwriter Sarah Alden came up professionally an award-winning virtuosic violinist, overflowing with chops and a wildly imaginative aesthetic. In the aftermath of her acclaimed band dissolving, she went on a transformative journey where she discovered a fresh sense of artistic purpose. Now, she releases the boldest album of her career, the intimate and lushly atmospheric, Up To The Sky.
“For years, my job was to play music for people to dance to and get drunk to,” Alden says laughing good-naturedly. “But when I made this album, I wanted to put forth stillness.”
Sarah Alden is best known for her work with the experimental collective The Luminescent Orchestrii. With swaggering authenticity, the group fearlessly bridged genres such as Middle Eastern, Gypsy, jazz, hip-hop, and punk. The Luminescent Orchestrii released four records, toured internationally, and garnered prime exposure from The New York Times and Time Out New York. Often The Luminescent Orchestrii collaborated with the Grammy award-winning old-time string band Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Outside the band, Alden has released the critically acclaimed solo debut, Fists of Violets. As a freelance musician, her masterful versatility has enabled her to work with a broad array of artists such as Baby Dee, Howard Fishman Quartet, Dan Zanes, Rana Santacruz, and Astrograss, among others. She’s also had the distinguished honor of touring as a folk musician with the US State Department as an American Music Ambassador and with Jazz at Lincoln Center as part of the Rhythm Road project. In 2013, Alden was awarded an OneBeat fellowship with Bang on a Can and Found Sound Nation and the US State Department. This honor enabled her to tour and collaborate with 25 handpicked musicians from around the world.
Up To The Sky keeps with the spirit of intrepid creativity that’s imbued Alden’s vibrantly eclectic career thus far, but it’s unlike any music endeavor she’s ever undertaken. The album represents an epiphany. Alden tucks her dazzling violin in the background, and what emerges in the foreground is her gifts as an impressionistic songwriter and a mesmerizing vocalist. Up To The Sky has garnered favorable comparisons to Andrew Bird and Bjork, accolades that acknowledge its subtle sophistication and richly textured soundscapes of synths and strings.
After an epic music journey that took Alden from a farm in Southwest Ohio, to Budapest, to Transylvania, to, finally, New York, Sarah Alden found herself in Cyprus in 2013. Along the way, and with high velocity, she explored such diverse styles as folk, bluegrass, klezmer, and Balkan and Appalachian music traditions, among many other genres and subgenres. While on that Mediterranean island she wanted to step away from the dizzying pace and pressure of her artistic life.
“Every morning I would wake up with the sun and go for a swim. Then I would work on music. Being away from the hustle of New York, I felt like I could explore without consequences. I would sit around and try alternate tunings on my violin, improvise with a looping pedal, and feel like I was freeing myself from the instrument that, at the time, I felt like I had been trapped by since I was five,” she confides.
Away from expectations to be a certain type of musician, Alden began to envision an ethereal aesthetic that encompassed indie pop, folk, atmospheric electronica, and the singer-songwriter genre. Upon returning to New York, she began collaborating with her good friend, guitarist and composer Kyle Sanna who co-produced the album and co-wrote select tracks.
Up To The Sky is a nine-song collection of tone poems that evokes nature and addresses themes of intimacy. On the album’s first single, “Whispering Winds,” Alden delicately drapes sultry vocal melodies over crisp and hushed melodic accompaniment that feels like its distantly emanating from a music box. Here, airy harmonies waft in and out adding space and dimension. “I grew up on a farm, and, now living in New York, my body aches to be closer to nature and animals. That’s the feeling I conjure on this song,” Alden reveals. The title track’s quiet fire jazz-flavored dynamics reflect the inner struggle of an artist reconciling career goals with artistic ones. The ebullient reggae lilt of “Palace” finds Alden exploring pop hooks through her signature stylistic wanderlust. Up To The Sky concludes powerfully with the pent-up sensuality of the sultry “1000 Moons” which gently unfolds from moody ambience to roiling climaxes of haunting violins and percussion.
Reflecting back on the adventure that brought her to Up To The Sky, Alden says: “The most meaningful thing for me is freeing myself to explore without judgment. It was hard to start something new and kind of put the violin aside, but I feel like I’ve achieved a real personal and creative success with this album.”