Leila Arab is a mysterious soul, a musician who has worked with Richard James (Rephlex founder) and Björk in the past and steadily released her own solo material to reserved but warm fanfare. Blood Looms & Blooms is perhaps her highest-profile album yet, but it’ll still find its place at the margins of the mainstream, vocal turns from the likes of Martina Topley Bird and Terry Hall ensuring there’ll be sniffs from a curious few, but the majority of those reading about this fine record will do only that: read about it.
Why? Because Leila’s rather too backwards at coming forwards. Her smooth-edged electro moodscapes such as album opener ‘Molie’ and ‘Lush Dolphins’ are enjoyably quirky twists on a formula established – clicks and drones, sweeps and moans, set against a rigid backbeat – but they’d connect easier with their intended audience if we could visualise their maker at work. Not entirely flattering – i.e. they don’t present our protagonist as a particularly cheery individual, happy for you to sample her sonic wares – promotional shots at her MySpace page are all we’re offered, and from a journalist’s point of view the press release that accompanies Blood Looms & Blooms isn’t especially helpful in colouring the character to be critiqued.
Perhaps her distance can be understood, though, as Leila is an orphan and, buried deep within these haunting melodies, may be traces of tributes to her late parents. Perhaps the reason there’s been little in the way of widely read feature pieces (well, I haven't seen any) accompanying this album’s release is that Leila would rather not discuss the record; she’d rather the music did all the talking necessary. To a great extent it does, too: ‘Young Ones’ is wholly instrumental, but its decaying Gallic tones speak louder to the heart than any songs that are graced by a guest vocalist here. Of those contributor turns, of course Terry Hall’s is a show-stopper, ‘Time To Blow’ echoing the odd electro eclecticisms of Hanne Hukkelberg beneath the ex-Specials singer’s recognisable tones. ‘Deflect’ resonates with an air of menace, of real drama – as Topley Bird does her breathy bit, a guitar is turned from two through four, five, six, ending at eleven and our eardrums pop.
There are further guests, too, with Zan Lyons popping up on ‘Young Ones’. But unlike so many other records busting at the seams with different voices, cooks aplenty, Blood Looms & Blooms showcases its core creator without the distractions diluting her role to any significant degree. Promisingly, apparently the majority of these songs have been arranged to suit the live stage, so Leila could well follow recent Björk support shows with headline dates of her own. If the magic that floats around this collection of tracks can be recalled and presented in a dark club, expect the night in question to be one of your best, a show to remember. She could drop the dodgy cover of ‘Norwegian Wood’ and probably should, but that misstep aside this record’s an engagingly oddball, enchantingly out-there piece of avant-pop that could, with just a little more exposure, be celebrated as one of 2008’s best leftfield albums.
8Tony Robert Whyte's Score