by Phil Scarisbrick
The repeal of the 8th Amendment on abortion in Ireland was a historic moment for its citizens, and especially women. The influential grip of the Catholic Church on law-making in Eire had remained steadfast for centuries, but now there were signs that it was loosening, and for the better. The debate over whether it should be repealed or not centred on two key elements – the sentience of foetuses, and the ability of women to have control over their own bodies and health. As is often the case with such heated debates, gender equality and invariably inequality, underpinned the arguments on either side. In the background of this, Irish art-folk maestro, Maija Sofia, was composing the music that makes up her new album, Bath Time. The record comprises of nine songs taking historical female figures, and utilising their stories to create an enthralling and beautiful collection.
From Bridget Cleary, an Irish woman burned alive by her husband who believed her to have been taken by fairies, to Edie Sedgewick, a muse for Andy Warhol, the figures we hear the stories of are of different times, but eerily similar. The reverb-drenched guitar acts as the perfect foil for Sofia’s haunting vocal on the brilliant Hail Mary. Taking the holy mother and opening her up to human desires and vulnerabilities, and presenting her as a formed woman rather than an unembellished deity is an incredible piece of songwriting, showing up the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church when it comes to sexuality. Edie Sedgewick adds a lap steel to atmosphere as Sofia analyses the way our identities can be shifted by our association with other people. In her case, it was the end of a relationship, while in Sedgewick’s case, her identity was as Warhol’s muse rather than being of herself.
Lead single, The Glitter, has a more fleshed out soundtrack, with strings adding another pivot for Sofia’s vocals. This time, inspired by the work of novelist Jean Rhys, she sings about the tendency people have to romanticise things, and cling to things we’ve fallen out of love with. The call and answer melody bounces along in such a way that even the heaviest of subject matters feel accessible and even vibrant. It would be very easy to take this record at face value, with its allegorical tales of historical figures being used as a vehicle for greater political expression. Of course, that is very important, but the songs never feel preachy or self-righteous. Our view of history tends to lack nuance – where, in reality, human beings have always been as complex as we are today. What this record does is to lay bare these complexities, as well as addressing the misrepresentation and mistreatment of women throughout history, while allowing Sofia to take stock of her own life. It is a stunning album, and is as important thematically as it is wonderful to listen to.