Pallas Athene, the electronic project of Toronto’s Breanna Johnston, was borne from adversity. Injuring her hands in a construction mishap, the then folk and rock musician had to put down her guitar in order for her hands to heal. Not beaten though, Johnston threw herself into electronic music – a voyage less strenuous on her damaged hands.
That journey has come full circle in the form of her debut, self-titled EP. Though this release is evidence of her triumph over misfortune, the music would more aptly soundtrack the minutes before the blow to her hands; its dystopic synths and wispy vocal sounding like a gloomy premonition, that non-sensical conclusion that something is about to go very wrong.
Evocative of words from J G Ballard’s sci-fi novels, scenes from Ben Wheatley films, ‘Pallas Athene’ is ominously eerie, a spectre gaining ground on its victim. It’s absurdly alluring though, its tractor beam light luring you into a strange, uninhabited land.
Warping synths and a skittling drum machine anchor ‘The Wall’, with Johnston bemoaning an unbreachable barrier that’s sprung up between two friends, “The walls that separate us as friends / Has come to stand between us again”. That word ‘again’ prefixes each verse, its every use representing a further dissipation of hope that the friendship can repair. ‘Communion’, an instrumental collaboration with Dollarstone Keyboard, is the only song not produced, mixed and written by Johnston alone. ‘In Silence’ is dark and industrial, dominated by a metallic synth that looms unassumingly over the soundscape.
The highlight though has to be ‘Saturn’s Return’. Here, Johnston’s voice is loaded with attitude, there’s a glint in the eye, a hint of arrogance. The drums take on the persistence of an industrial conveyer belt as whimsical keys absolve you of worry. The lyrics represent a sort of epiphany. At first, the chorus comprises the words ““If it’s luck, if it’s courage, if it’s all these things. / Then the life that we share / Don’t mean a thing”. While in the chorus’ final inception, Johnston amends the final line to “the life that we share / means everything”. An admission that though our stories as humans may not have a great final ending, it’s the journey – “the luck”, “the courage”, “all these things” – that makes it worth living.