It’s unlikely you’ll discuss Cecile Believe without prefacing her seismic voice. Though Made in Heaven is Caila Thompson-Hannant’s debut under her current moniker, she’s no stranger to the industry, having previously recorded under the name Mozart’s Sister. Back in 2011, she used her voice, which falls somewhere between an operatic diva and a living vocal synthesizer, to record off-kilter pop music that would later evolve into the hyperpop movement popularized by PC Music.
Despite her frequent connection to PC Music, Believe never seemed as interested in the frantic, transgressive pop idolatry label mainstays such as Hannah Diamond and GFOTY were concerned with. Instead, she mined pop’s graveyards for meaning, feasting on R&B and synthpop and painting shocking portraits of love and mania with the leftovers. In late 2017, around the time of the PC Music boom, Believe moved to L.A. from Montréal and began frequently collaborating with artists in the alternative pop scene, notably co-writing and acting as the main vocalist on Sophie’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides. Shortly after, she dropped her Mozart’s Sister project in favor of Cecile Believe.
Made in Heaven is the product of abandoning that name, an uncompromising EP that is often as morose as it is hopeful. Noticeably developed in her pop practice, the EP, again, features Believe’s arresting voice prominently, but that’s not all she can do. She’s also a fine engineer and an accomplished songwriter, showcased by the EP’s delightful inconsistency and a couple of moody ambient tracks for added emotional texture.
The EP proves Believe’s voice can shine in almost any musical mood, shockingly adaptable yet never camouflaged. On “Last Thing He Said To Me In Person,” she’s a coquettish R&B singer, naive yet worldly. With its ample use of space and pulsing 808s, Believe channels A Seat At The Table-era Solange while maintaining a wild-eyed, bleary outlook. It feels like an awakening, albeit a gentle one—“Welcome to America,” she coos, her voice soaring just above twinkling synth, “Thought you might be different, but you’re fucked up just like the rest of us.”
The EP’s filled to the brim with casual acceptance of harsh truths like that one, a testament to the strength of hitting the restart button, of untwining your own artistic DNA and starting again. “7PM” leads with the sound of clamoring thunderclouds, then dives headlong into familiar R&B-meets-synth territory. If “Last Thing He Said To Me In Person” is Believe’s realization she’s not happy, then “7PM” is her escape, a tug-of-war between driving off to nowhere or sinking in the storm. It’s reminiscent of her finest vocal performance to date, further proof of the emotional palate she’s able to communicate.
Believe often uses repetition, like in “7PM,” to illustrate her vacillating state of mind. On “Living My Life Over,” Believe is caught in a Groundhog Day-esque loop, heralded by drum n’ bass, where her dreams are crushed again and again. She manages to find humor in it, though—if she’s constantly relieving disappointment, it’s like she’s never growing old. While some might call it “arrested development,” for Believe, it’s a creative opportunity.
The title track isn’t quite an empowerment anthem in the way “Fight Song” or Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” is, but it’s certainly a gesture of divine encouragement. Believe knows telling someone they’re made in heaven comes across as corny and unhelpful, but she also finds it so, so necessary. Maybe, just maybe, she can convince you it’s true if she catches you on the right day. There’s a lurid boldness in the way chiptune synths invade the track’s walled paradise, gradually combatting with the drums for attention with dizzying confusion. It all gets rather haywire, but in its derangement Believe proves her sincerity. When she tells us we’re all transcendent beings, dammit, she means it!
She plays a cabaret singer on “Dissociation,” which, whether intentional or not, is the finest quarantine love song we’ve yet received. “Evidence suggests we’re doomed / And I’m all alone in this room,” she croons, her voice at an intimate peak. “And that feels right, apropos for end times.” It’s self-depreciative, but also completely hilarious, the EP’s most vulnerable moment despite Believe’s tonal detachment.
The EP’s closer, “Already Come,” is something of a goodbye to Believe’s past work. The track is notably little more than an afterthought, a bedroom recording of highly processed vocals and mournful ukulele, and purposely so: “Maybe it’s already come in the moment / And the moment is already gone.” There’s really no point in discussing old news, is there?
Hail to the feminine, hail to the messy: With its fragile moments, Made in Heaven is peculiar and surprising in a way pop rarely is these days. When maximalism is the aesthetic du jour of the pop world, Believe gleans elegant, tender emotion while working with everything and the kitchen sink. It’s also a reminder to be kind to yourself, which often means casting away even our most sacred selves—it’s impossible to evolve without losing your comfortable paradise.
Austin Jones is an intern at Paste. He writes about music, videogames and queer issues. He’s an avid fan of electronic and pop music, horror games, Joanna Newsom and ’80s-’90s anime. You can follow him on Twitter @belfryfire.