In the Loop: The Nunnery’s new album embellishes her lush sound

Emily Kinzel

FLOATING UPWARDS. This still is from the music ideo for “Begin” off of The Nunnery’s new record Fire Dove. Eau Claire native Sarah James’ vocal looping style is one-of-a-kind.
FLOATING UPWARDS. This still is from the music video for “Begin” off of The Nunnery’s new record Fire Dove. Eau Claire native Sarah James’ vocal looping style is one-of-a-kind.

The Nunnery’s musical catalog continues to blossom, like layers of petals flourishing from one central point. It’s the moniker of Eau Claire native Sarah James, and she’s just released her second album of vocal looping solo tunes called Fire Dove this past September. The new album yields 12 tracks, each spotlighting her distinct style with reverb and looped vocals, producing a beautifully haunting, yet meditative sound. You can see some traits of The Nunnery in some other Eau Claire-connected artists like The Staves, Sylvan Esso, and Bon Iver. But The Nunnery is truly one of a kind.

You might get lost amongst the layers of melodies and harmonies, taking time to formulate each track. When you press play, it’s hard to believe there is only one voice behind this work of art, as you’re hearing dozens. The only instrument used is the heartbeat of a drum sprinkled throughout the album. What keeps James’ musical style interesting is the slow build up of vocal percussion building upon itself. This stylistic choice transforms listening to experiencing.

For James, her musical style is found through simplicity. James explained, “Most people loop some kind of instrument and sing on top of the loops. I like to simplify the sound to just vocals and a hand drum.” Through pure vocals and an occasional accompaniment of a drum, James starts to resemble a church choir with each echoed verse.

There is also liveliness to Fire Dove, establishing movement within each song. “Someone told me after a show that Fire Dove felt alive. I really like that, like the music has its own entity,” James said. Through this, listeners can feel what James feels in real time.

Seeing James perform live only adds to her climbing musical effect. She’s knelt in the middle of the stage with a microphone and a loop station, and you can witness the build of each song, slow and deliberate. And often there’s accompanying projections and visuals to complement her style.

The album was inspired by lots of things: fire, travel, outdoors, friends, a lifetime of experiences. The Nunnery certainly has a bright future, and she’s creating intricate, gorgeous songs at a prolific rate. Having just finished a short tour for the album, she has no intentions of slowing down.

“When you know you want to make music for the rest of your life, it becomes your life,” James said. “Without action, music is dead.”

The Nunnery’s Fire Dove is available now! You can check it out at thenunnerymusic.bandcamp.com. To see The Nunnery live, come to the Volume One Gallery on Nov. 24 at 7pm as part of our annual Jingle Jams Concert Series.

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