Like the seminal Swans album, this column contains an eclectic collection of experimental music recommendations, all of which provide sonic landscapes for the listener to lose themselves within. Expect offerings from the genres of ambient, drone, electroacoustic, free improvisation, post-minimalism and more.
Other writers may do things differently, but I always map out exactly which columns I plan on using for the albums I’d like to highlight each month. Black and Death metal always go in Kvlt Kolvmn and Death’s Door, respectively; my favorite release earns my monthly Editors’ Pick (obviously); and along the way, I’ll typically throw my more bizarre finds (i.e. a good chunk of my regular listening) into this column right here. Back in May, TWRP earned the top spot for my Ed Picks soapbox, marginally eeking out ahead of equally stellar albums from LEYA, 1099, Mary Lattimore, Vive la Void and Wolvennest (to name a few). The fact that LEYA is the only name without a link is exactly why this post right here exists. Though I praised the duo’s exceptional album The Fool in our “Further Listening” sections for Ed Picks, I kept having this nagging feeling that I hadn’t given the album its proper due. The Fool has continued popping up in my weekly rotation and continuously drops haunting melodies into my consciousness from deep within my psyche. So in an effort to potentially quell my internal madness, here we are today, discussing what could very well be the most unique, and perhaps best, modern classical release of the year.
Here’s a recap from my Ed Picks blurb: LEYA are an intriguing duo that combine harp, violin and dual vocals in a way that matches its bizarre (and amazing) cover art. I mean, what other modern classical group has a harpist who occasionally sports a Slipknot shirt and track titles ranging from “666” to “Cats”? This speaks to the ferocious creativity of Marilu Donovan (the harpist) and Adam Markiewicz (the violinist), who take a maximalist approach to a minimalist lineup. The duo’s quartet of instruments converges to create striking modern compositions that dive headfirst into the avant-garde, coming out the other end as a collection of unique, memorable tracks that excel far above the often stale landscape of modern classical.
As a recent but dedicated follower of modern classical, I can confidently report that for every forward-thinking record like The Fool, there are a dozen pretentious music professors who’ve just released the umpteen-millionth recording of some classical composition from the genre’s vast repertoire. It’s for this reason that The Fool and albums of its ilk are especially important. In a genre infatuated with the past (often times, centuries in the past), it’s always refreshing to see a duo like LEYA fully fixated on the future. Of course, both Donovan and Markiewicz play at a classically-trained level on top of their underlying avant-garde proclivities. The Fool plays out like a two-person opera unraveling an immense amount of tension. Haunting operatic vocals, elongated guitar notes and plodding, plucking harp dance about the shadows. A consistent dichotomy evolves along the way; the juxtaposes beautiful melodies and jarring clusters of notes, frequently in the same measure. Lead single “Sister” was truly the best choice to entice listeners. From the first harp progression and surrounding violin bows, providing the perfect cushion for verbose operatic vocals.
The duo also brings out some guest collaborators from the modern American experimental underground (Eartheater, PC Worship and Sunk Heaven), but it’s truly Donovan and Markiewicz who steal the show from the onset of The Fool. There aren’t many guarantees in life, but at least I know NNA Tapes will drop at least one noteworthy album every month. The Fool is the latest example in this trend of great experimental releases, and I feel genuinely lucky to have found this album at the perfect time in my own personal listening trajectory. This is an album that requires an open mind, and though it’s admittedly a bit of an odd experience at first, it’s worth the journey and plenty of return trips on top of that. Modern classical bedfellows and foreigners alike should jump on The Foll pronto; LEYA have something incredible going on here that’s not to be missed.