Up in the Northeastern wilds of Philadelphia, a woman named Niki Flanly is hard at work, soldering a circuit board for a custom guitar pedal, spray painting a design on a guitar body, or cranking out monster riffs as her rock n’ roll alter ego: Avataria. Niki has built every piece of what has become Avataria and the new LP, Let Go: everything from the music and lyrics to the pedals that crank out fuzz-laden distortion to the guitar itself. In press shots, you see her in a fringed leather jacket, colored the same palette of purples and violets that grace the album cover. She’s holding a custom guitar, modeled after the classic Gibson Flying V (an iconic guitar style that almost announces what it’s going to play before you even hear it). She made that guitar. She altered that jacket. She picked the colors. She built all of this.
It’s been a long run to get here. Flanly has been putting out singles and EPs since 2011. Emerging from a long break period, she started putting herself back out there in 2019, just in time for (you guessed it) the entire music and live show world to go quiet. But thanks to a broken coffee maker and the inability to get a new one at the beginning of lockdown in 2020, she taught herself how to solder, and next thing she knew, she was building and selling custom pedals.
Working with London-based producer Aubrey Whitfield (the two have collaborated digitally for years but have never met in person), Flanly has finally put the finishing touches on Let Go and put it out into the world (no one is more relieved, I imagine, than her). It starts off with the blistering stoner-riff of “Crash”, where she warns “I think you know/Where this is gonna go”. “Homesick For You” comes to life over a Melvins-esque bass melody, and the refrain that “nobody ever said this was fair” is a theme she also visited on the song “Easy” from her 2020 Head Over Heels EP. It’s perhaps the most common sentiment of adulthood: I thought this was gonna be one way, but it’s not.
The album progresses through 13 songs, all held together with her signature heavy fuzz, one foot planted firmly in the “post-grunge-stoner-rock” camp, and the other in the world of modern pop and a cleaner production style than some of her influences attained. She achieves what Soundgarden was actually criticized for in their Seattle community early in their career: the wild freedom of rock n’ roll and heavy guitar with the desire to write songs that are designed for any music listener, not just the ones down in the depths of sludgy distortion and mumbled vocals. Her vocals are clear, they’re up front, and she wants you to know what she’s singing about. It would be a disservice to mistake the grunge comparisons for anything resembling a slacker vibe.
Standout tracks include “Lovebuzzed”, “Out Of Love”, and “Impatience”, just to name a few. “Lovebuzzed” takes off like an old outtake from The Cult or early Alice In Chains. “Out Of Love” is a classic ‘kiss-off’ tune, with a melange of guitars that sound like they’re being played from atop a mountain. “Impatience”, the album’s shortest cut, may be one of its sweetest, getting right in there and delivering, building an aggressive melody, and culminating in a sharp exit.
Much like the visuals of her albums and artworks, Avataria plays in monochromatics. Big bold motifs, altered slightly, and then stacked up next to each other to create stark transitions. Flanly has altered the hues and shades to create striking visual artwork, and she has altered and tweaked the tones throughout the records to deliver striking songs that share the same basis, yet each exists uniquely on their own.
The final two tracks on Let Go (“She” and “Time”) sit slightly adjacent to what’s been heard up to this point on the album. Leaning more into electronic ambience and more sonic processing in the drums and guitars, it’s a great example of shifting tone just a touch to create something new that still feels like it belongs on the record. London-based producer Aubrey Whitfield has been a collaborator with Flanly since 2020, and while Whitfield has worked in nearly every style and genre you could imagine, she seems very at home in that crossroad of electronic textures and distorted guitar. The treatment is absolutely on-brand for the record, it’s equally reminiscent of both Sisters of Mercy and Evanescence. These last two songs are perhaps the best evidence and result of the two women’s long-distance relationship as artist and producer.