A batty, compelling, smart and unusual fourth LP from the Iranian artist.
Luke Turner 2012-01-25
U&I is Iranian-born musician innovator Leila Arab’s fourth album, and the second for the Warp label after time spent with Aphex Twin’s Rephlex and XL. A musical life that thrives on collaboration stretches back to the early 1990s, when she worked with Björk on the Icelander’s Debut and Post LPs – and her last release, 2008’s Warp debut Blood, Looms, and Blooms, featured contributions from both Terry Hall and Martina Topley-Bird. U&I is a heavier, darker creation, however. There are fewer of the intimate, soulful conversations that mark her earlier work (2000’s XL-released Courtesy of Choice featured the dying flickers of trip hop); in their place, a frantic babel, written in conjunction with Berlin-based producer Mt. Sims, that involves umpteen musical genres and the kitchen sink. It’s a bold move, but does it work?
There’s certainly a perplexing mixture of sounds here, with Welcome To Your Life managing to combine frantic breakbeat, Friday night student electro WHEEEE and a slightly weedy vocal, courtesy of Mt. Sims. The following track throws a curveball down into a musty crypt, the ethereal In Consideration all choirboy vocals and minimal backing. The vocal effect in (Disappointed Cloud) Anyway does bring to mind one of Mt Sims’ previous musical partners, The Knife; but unlike many of the myriad Karin Dreijer Andersson clones currently being rushed out by record labels, the track breezes by with an unusual life of its own. It’s followed by tracks proffering brave contrast: the pummelling, brutally abstract Interlace and Colony Collapse Disorder owe much to the noise underground.
There are great concepts here, too. Colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon where bee populations appear to die without rhyme or reason, has concerned biologists for some time, given the pivotal role that the buzzing honey-makers have in our ecosystem. The heavy, squelching electronics, panicked rhythms and maddened vocals of the track named for this troubling bit of bad news from the natural world evoke images of this disaster replicated on a human scale.
At the start of 2012, Leila issued a Happy New Year with the stern bookend and admonishment: "If you adhere to the Roman calendar that is. Leila prefers the Zoroastrian version, in line with the vernal at equinox as compared to a timeline constructed by vain little Romans." This was accompanied by a quotation from Marcel Duchamp: "For me, Dadaism was an extremely necessary step." In a world of megaLOLz, such high-end intent is to be welcomed, especially when accompanied by such a batty, compelling, smart and unusual soundtrack as U&I.