The Catalan duo of Marta Torrella and Helena Ros celebrates the abiding human impulse to sing together. Since forming in 2016 Tarta Relena has been about the blend of their gorgeous voices, melding in tender unison and gliding within exquisite harmonies. Each voice has a particular profile, so when they join we bask in their tonal differences as well as an almost telepathic unity. From the beginning Torrella and Ros embraced a wide variety of vocal traditions, both in terms of material and technique. They’ve sung ancient Georgian folk songs, hymns by Hildegard von Bingen, traditional Pashtun songs from Afghanistan, and old Sephardic balladry, but in the end the duo’s repertoire is less about geography or era than about the power of the voice throughout history.
The duo’s earliest work was built almost exclusively from the collision of their voices, but as they have evolved electronics play an increasingly important role. Sometimes there are ambient washes and gentle effects that tug or smudge the ethereal harmonies, but on other pieces visceral low-end bass tones and slow, pounding beats generate new perspectives. With the help of producers Òscar Garrobé and Juan Luis Batalla, Tarta Relena has expanded its sound world without losing its vocal heart. When they interpret the 13th-century hymn “Stabat Mater” on their magical 2021 album Fiat Lux, there’s a kind of striated, electronically-enhanced exhalation between each phrase that suggests the way sound is buffeted in a speeding car with the windows down, while on “Las Alamedas” their voices open in a full-throated delivery of Federico García Lorca poetry set to a melody by Spanish composer Manuel Oltra, while electronic beats surge and snake beneath.
As Pitchfork has written of Fiat Lux, “Perhaps Tarta Relena’s greatest achievement on this gripping album is that their work sounds both musically unique and emotionally familiar, reaching through centuries of tradition and geographical divide to connect on a human level, like an ancient Egyptian hangover cure or a crude Sumerian joke.”