Sometimes it’s only when you look back that you’re truly able to see. Such is the case with Moscow-born artist Anastasia Minster. Having captivated audiences for several years, Anastasia left her homeland for Toronto in 2014 and it’s now apparent just how deeply Russia has seeped into her soul. It can be seen in her dark and existential lyrics (think Dostoevsky) and heard in the Rachmaninoff-like intensity that pours out of her own music – piano-driven chamber pop which fuses elements of classical, folk and jazz.
Just as Anastasia’s past shapes her sound, so does her new home in Canada. Living in a building overlooking a colossal park, her piano sits beside the window so that she can watch the sunset. It’s where she observes hawks as they soar, listens to coyotes howl and wakes up to the dawn chorus at 5 am. This is her favourite time of day, when there are no other sounds to hide their singing.
As the birds welcome the day, Anastasia’s is music to break the silence of the dark and to accompany those witching-hour questions of life and death, estrangement and connection. It should come as no surprise that composing is her form of meditation, a vessel for her unconscious mind.
Once the skeleton of a song is there it’s up to her band members to add their parts. Their task is to add to the voice and piano that she has left for them, without breaking the fragile space that has been created. It’s all there to be heard on her new album Hour of the Wolf, the most expansive recording of her career to date, on which she has invited upright bass, cello, saxophone, bass clarinet and more to enter her world.
At the centre of the new album is the title track. Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film of the same name and Carl Jung’s concept of “shadow self”, it looks at the destructive forces within the human psyche. Each song on the record represents a different state of mind, from feeling trapped in one’s own body to accepting the inevitability of death. Listeners will hear a dark mellowness close to Nina Simone’s and the supple dexterity of David Sylvian. Whatever its origins, this is music that echoes life itself – no matter how far the darkness creeps there’s always a flicker of light.