Recorded in the weeks before her 2018 appearance at Hard Working Class Heroes, “Violent Strawberry” - the third EP from Belfast singer-songwriter Sonja Sleator is four tracks of some her most personal writing so far.
The opening song is “Ghost” which was released as a single in 2018. At the time it achieved airplay across three continents and was used by festival organisers to promote Sleator’s performance at Hard Working Class Heroes.
Reverbs of electric guitar, (reminiscent of The XX’s “Intro”) open the song together with a gentle wash of cymbal percussion before a beautiful blues beat practically slinks into the track. This is a song about healing after a broken relationship. Sleator sounds sultry as she sings “How about you come in and we talk this over? / I can tell, by the look on your face you’re not through.”
The chorus, in contrast, is more spirited and folksy with breezy strums of guitar lending an optimistic feel to the track. Sleator sings: “Go back where you belong to” – she realises she is no longer haunted by this person – made more evident towards the end of the song with stirring repeats of: “Your Ghost – it doesn’t haunt me anymore.”
“You Claim To” has a traditional Celtic quality to its sound – combining brushes of percussion with slow-paced beats of hollow drum. It’s deliciously eerie and ethereal with honest and unmasked vocal: “And I’ll be cautious for a while, just observing you and your crooked smile/ no don’t look at me or catch my eye, cos down we’ll both go…..”
“You Never Said” continues the theme of frank, candid portrayals of break up, this time against a backdrop of measured, sedate percussion – the song is dark and the lyrics carry an emotional weight such as the tender “I hear when you fall, it hurts” and “it took me a while to look up” to the more gritty “Now just leave me be, you’re a bastard but so was he.”
The final track is the current single “Goodbye” – a hauntingly, beautiful song and the stand-out track on the EP. Mournful piano and a delicate vocal, evocative of Dido combine to make a stirring and moving account of walking away. The overall atmosphere of the song is sparse which perfectly match the lyrics. An emotive key change adds extra sorrow before Sleator sings with anguish: “I, have fallen on my knees today, and I really, really, fucking tried. “
It’s a fitting final song to an impressive and gorgeous EP. It could have been overly sentimental given the subject matter but Sleator keeps it real with raw, honest songwriting and producer Michael Mormecha creates beautiful, soul-stirring atmospheres which never shadow the songwriting or performance. Yes, Sonia Sleator is definitely one to keep an eye on.
The full EP is exclusively available directly from Sonja at shows or through her label, Tin Man Heart, on Bandcamp.