Friday, June 17, 2016

CD Review: Lesley Flanigan-Hedera

Lesley Flanagan
(Physical Editions)

Experimental vocal music can be a dicey medium, whether the performer works within a band context, goes it alone with no effects or expands and builds on a voice through the use of pedals. Natural echo can make long notes resonate with a warm quality. Percussive sounds, conversely, can bring back memories of the kid at the junior high lunch table that was skilled at burping the alphabet, or stereotypical imitations of Tourette's Syndrome.

Lesley Flanagan's previous recordings combined her strong voice with feedback that emanated from her hand-crafted wooden speakers. The results lead one writer to call 2009's Amplifications "a snowstorm of a record," which sounds like an ideal compliment.  Hedera features just two tracks, the twenty-minute title track and the five-minute "Can Barely Feel My Feet."

"Hedera" begins with a rapid percussive beat, generated by a malfunctioning tape deck. Despite its origin, the unceasing 16-note "riff" has a strong, visceral quality to it. Once that's established, Flanagan begins layering long vocal tones on top of it, building chordal harmonies that twist and wrap around one another. After seven minutes, she starts pulling them back and soon the music takes an Eno-esque break for some tranquility. The quality of the notes here fall into a strange middle ground between human voice and synthesizer. The beat is still part of it, but it sits far back in the mix, acting more like a reminder than a participant. It eventually reemerges and the music works towards something of a climax with layers of Flanagan swirling around each other. As the piece fades, the beat finally goes away, and all the variations in the voices sound clear. It also has a more human quality that was overshadowed by the relentless beat, which kept the piece more in the realm of electronica. If Flanagan had added more variations to the sound of the groove, or simply removed it for a bit, the whole piece might have felt more emotionally engaging. Nevertheless, it maintains an alluring quality.

"Can Barely Feel My Feet" does away with a beat completely, leaving the listener in the presence of ghostly voices that rise and fall, moan and coo repeatedly. Some sections have a warm, hypnotic quality while one voice adds an eerie quality in the way Flanigan moans.

To a first time listener, Hedera serves as a good introduction to Lesley Flanigan, leaving you intrigued about what will come next and how the preceding releases compare.

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