Referring to the silence that returns when last year's "Krómantík" EP fades out, Sóley said, "… your closed eyes slowly start seeing something much deeper and darker," and now that something is here, it's right in front of us: "Ask The Deep" is a stunningly dark and deeply personal departure after the minimalist and bleak piano compositions of said EP: Relying on guts, ghost ships, and a sonic map that doesn't show the same piano coordinates as before, her soft-sounding voice leads us deeper and deeper into the shadowy fairytale worlds only hinted at on previous releases such as her "Theater Island" EP and 2011's much-praised "We Sink" debut album. Changing tactics to fight her inner demon with every track, "Ask The Deep" sees the bespectacled songwriter open Pandora's box – and close it eventually. At least for now.
"Have I danced with the devil?", Sóley Stefánsdóttir asks on album opener "Devil", then crescendoing: "Does he still love me?" And that inner demon, responsible for all the sunless spots, the moist corners where silky mosses grow, he's frequently beguiling her throughout "Ask The Deep", even spinning and dancing, since he's hardly alone: Once the melodic surges of "Devil" lead to other fairytale soundscapes – the piano no longer being "the main character" of Sóley's music –, more and more ghosts, both real and imaginary, enter the scene. Inspired by an actual news story about a man who was buried alive in Brazil, "Ævintýr" marches in circles with tribal beats underneath ethereal swirls, and "One Eyed Lady" is perhaps Sóley's most minimalist lullaby yet: It's the beatless account of a one-eyed witch that would actually "kill for love", as the song's mantra reverberates into the void. Back in fairyland, a group of girls appears as nightmares in "Halloween", sailing on a ghost ship, ambushing the boys, the dreamers of this disembodied, infernal dream built on layers of beats: "Tell me how can I wake up again."
With looped forces of gravity and swerving nods to Philip Glass, "Follow Me Down" is a brooding roll call to enter the distorted depths, to go beyond the point of no return, to leave the comfort zone. And it's a reminder: We still sink. Amid the flotsam and jetsam, things appear that weren't previously there – hard-hitting drums set to Beach House vibes ("Dreamers"), a haunted church showdown with the jilted devil ("I Will Never"), a hint of unlikely, hopeful pop even ("Breath") – until the inner demon reappears once again: Built around a part of the "Devil", album closer "Lost Ship" deals with the same conflict, "my devil, my master, my mind and my soul." "It's saying I'm stronger than my devil mind, though sometimes it wants to take over everything," she explains. Her final words on the album: "… and do not forget/I never loved you".
It's funny, but with Sóley's music, metaphor is never just metaphor: When the multi-instrumentalist from Iceland sang "I run away from you" on her debut album, you could actually see her running through some forest (or some barren Icelandic field), and this capability to create a sense of situation, a surreal, dreamlike scenario via sound, it's still her trademark – albeit crowed by way more ghosts and Beelzebubian shadows this time around: Taking her listeners on a journey to phantasmal grounds, her sophomore full-length is both more intricate and diverse in how it's written, arranged and narrated. And it's even more obvious that her voice is crucial in guiding the way to that place where one can live, that safe shore on the other side of the ocean.
"You must face your fairytale," the former student of composition sings elsewhere on "Ask The Deep". She doesn't run. Faces him again and again. And even Willy Wonka would agree: She is the music maker – but we are the dreamers of the dreams.