Artist Kristina Esfandiari has long been a stalwart of the Bay Area music scene. The former vocalist of noisy shoegaze band Whirr, she next reincarnated herself as her gloomy alter-ego King Woman. Fitting loosely into the doom metal genre, this project embraces psychedelic, folk, and (of course) shoegaze elements to create a sound that’s truly unique to the world of heavy music. Having put out EPs in 2013 and 2014, their latest, Doubt, was critically lauded for its huge guitar sound and crushing sonic weight.
What concerns us today though is Esfandiari’s solo project Miserable. Having quietly released a few EPs prior, the project returned this year with the stunning full-length, Uncontrollable. The record combines Esfandiari’s background in shoegaze and doom with her affinity for folk music, resulting in an intriguing hybrid – almost a cross-breed between a Chelsea Wolfe and an Angel Olsen. The record is slow and somber; Esfandiari’s haunting vocals layer smoothly over sighing guitar riffs.
The record is desperately sad and achingly beautiful all at once, in a way that’s sometimes unsettling but not at all unpleasant. This push and pull is evident on tracks like “Oven,” in which Esfandiari’s rich vocals wrap the listener up in a warm blanket while lyrics like “I know that you used to love me” and “Stick my head in an oven” sting like a wound that won’t scab. In an interview with Noisey, Esfandiari explained of the track: “‘Oven’ is about someone I was once so intimate with making me feel like they never cared. That can make you feel insane, and it causes you second guess everything you thought was real. It’s about feeling extremely frustrated over miscommunication between you and someone you truly loved.'” And in that Esfandiari masters the universal – the unbearable need for an explanation when you know you likely won’t receive one.
In the same interview, she described the writing and recording of Uncontrollable as a painful but therapeutic experience, a creative need to work past the pain of being crushed. Now that she’s on the other side of it, performing these songs, she finds herself sometimes surprised at other people’s emotional response to the record. She told me over email: “It’s pretty wild how attached people are to some of the songs I’ve written. The experiences people have while listening to them are so intense. Most def didn’t see that coming. I guess I couldn’t see past my own pain while creating this album. Feels nice to be out of that dark tunnel.” It feels nice to know too that should any of us return to our own respective dark tunnels, this record will be there waiting for us.
Esfandiari plans to maintain all of her projects and is writing new songs for Miserable right now. In the coming months she’ll continue to work on a different folk record, and an electronic/R&B EP as well. I’m excited to see how her unique artistic perspective translates to these different genres. See her perform as Miserable tonight at Alphaville.