I Ya Toyah
The three-song EP Ghosts was just released by the Chicago-based artist I Ya Toyah (née Ania Tarnowska). It is currently available on Bandcamp, and will be available on other platforms, and in physical form, in early 2023.
This recording is interesting for a number of reasons. For one, it marks a stylistic departure for the artist, best known for her industrial soundscapes, driving rhythms and full-on production. Featuring only voice and piano, this short collection of songs presents I Ya Toyah’s music in its naked glory.
Full-production versions of the songs on Ghosts were released in recent years. This EP’s leadoff track, “Pray” is from her EP Out of Order (2021), and “Code Blue” and “Time Machine”, are both from her debut album, Code Blue (2018). This seems perhaps to be an unusual choice to present acoustic versions of songs that really have not been with us for very long. Often, artists leave some time and distance between an original release and the “unplugged” version.
This type of bold move appears to be the norm for this artist, who comments in her press notice, “This EP is a celebration of the independent spirit, and the freedom to create that has been the backbone of I Ya Toyah from the very beginning. And that is why I am so confident that my true fans will be willing to join me on this journey.” I Ya Toyah is taking quite an artistic risk here, a case in point being the song “Pray”. To hear the original version back-to-back with the acoustic release, one might scarcely believe they are the same song.
One cannot help but draw comparisons between the songs on Ghosts and their predecessors. The original songs have so much going on in them, and seem so full and complete. The acoustic versions, though sparse, are sharp and present, with mix-forward vocals that show off the artist’s technical skill. The piano work is both melodic and percussive, leaving space where needed, and deftly setting the mood. There are many moments that actually evoke dramatic musical theatre or cabaret performances.
If there is issue to be taken here, it lies within the lengths of the songs (all over four minutes) and the repetitive nature of some choruses. Where a full band setting provides more variety of instrumentation and opportunities for change in dynamics, the piano-and-vocals versions on this recording really have to leave it all hanging out there. This is laudable and often beautiful, but it does not always work. Despite best intentions, there is a ponderous quality that sets in, which could possibly be remedied through editing or more variance in major and minor key signatures. None of this detracts from the artist’s work, or their choices and evolution. I Ya Toyah is an artist to watch.
I Ya Toyah will be donating 15% of the sales of this EP towards suicide prevention and mental health, supporting the 988 Crisis Line.
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: I YA TOYAH – GHOSTS