You may not have heard of YOVA, but by the time you’ve finished Nine Lives, you’ll wish you had. Led by Jova Radevska’s shimmering vocals, the band creates a hypnotic soundscape in keeping with the eerie aesthete of a world arising from pandemic. Whether or not this debut will be remembered in the way Definitely Maybe is, is anyone’s guess, but what’s harder to argue with is how polished it all sounds, every guitar lick jostling behind a strident display of strings and probing drum beats. It’s a cryptic, cerebral affair, but that’s not say there aren’t moments of levity. Indeed, “You’re The Mirror” feels like an audition tape for James Bond 26, as Radevska’s breathes longingly over the smouldering, symphonic rock backbeat. The power is only furthered on “Togetherness”, a startling guitar exhibition that aches for honesty in a society that shelters behind aloofness- not forgetting the startling “Rain”, a tasty companion piece to The Beatle track that undoubtedly influenced it. Radevska is excellent, but Mark Vernon is also noteworthy, ably fulfilling the role of the taciturn Dave Stewart to Radevska’s more boisterous Annie Lennox. The Eurythmics cast a welcome shadow over the work, especially on “An Innocence Man”, a mini operetta that details the exploits of a lowly narrator recalling the policeman who would intractably change the course of their lives forever. Arranger Rob Ellis doubles as studio drummer, and conductor, writing many of the more fluorescent contributions to the work. As an aesthete, this holds conceptual, as well as classical, connotations, as the work imbues a theatricality that’s in keeping with the danger and grandeur of opera. Out of all the songs, “Where There Is Smoke” holds the most commercial value, and there is an alternative rendition out there, this time with Anni Hogan on piano. Then there’s “Would I Change It” , an exciting venture into rock territories, as Radevska adopts a more raucous style of performance, bolstered by energy, appetite and a thunderous drum accompaniment. More interestingly, “Make It Better” opens with a slick, crisp display of clapping, the band dialling the clock from the millenium to the more primitive, albeit equally rollicking, records of the nineteen fifties. Exceptionally well produced, and delivered with gusto from beginning to end, the album holds nine tracks, ultimately culminating in “Haunted”, the album’s longest and best offering. Through a mosaic of cellos, pianos, pedals and drums, the song proffers the most accomplished middle eighth in the duo’s catalogue, demonstrating a vocal display that’s pleasantly reminiscent of the Celtic ballads scattered across Ireland, Scotland and Wales. For then there is silence, until there isn’t, and the record closes on an elongated cello performance that brings the album to a strangely emotional close. No words, no drums, just stridency, gumption and a desire to bathe audiences in chamber pop. Beautiful. It’s too early to say conclusively whether or not YOVA have released the album of the year, but we can safely say that they’ve released an album that stands with the best 2021 has offered.