Critical Voices: Leila, “Blood, Looms and Blooms”

August 28, 2008

Blood, Looms and Blooms is the most captivating electronica album I’ve heard since The Knife’s Silent Shout, though her latest release “electronica” doesn’t begin to capture the veritable musical circus Leila Arab is orchestrating.

Considering the British (by way of Iran) artist got her start as Björk’s touring keyboardist and live mixer, it’s no surprise that Leila wields such an unpredictable bag of tricks, skipping from techno to trip-hop to ornate pop with an auteur’s masterful control.

Both of Leila’s parents passed away since her last album, 2000’s Courtesy of Choice, and for a time it was unclear whether she would release another album. Luckily, with Blood, Looms and Blooms she’s emerged from her eight-year hiatus to channel her pain into her music, all the while flaunting her versatility as a songwriter and producer.

Instrumental pieces like “Mollie” and “Mettle,” which pair bleak atmospherics with churning rhythms, wrench a great deal of sorrow and dread from electronic equipment often wrongly considered impervious to the tugs and pulls of human emotion. “Daisies, Cats and Spacemen” is particularly fragile, recalling trip-hop legend Portishead with its distant, machine-gun percussion and smoky R&B vocals delivered by Leila’s sister, Roya.

Not all of the album is draped in this looming miasma, however. Leila’s proclivity for humor and unadulterated fun gives Blood a healthy sense of balance and produces some of the record’s many highlights. Most striking, perhaps, is “Little Acorns,” the sound of a more avant-garde M.I.A. clearing her throat over wheezing carnival synths and pocket-sized horns. The beat alone—wedged comfortably between hip-hop and dancehall—is a marvel.

Blood is a grab bag, bursting at the seams, but Leila is more than capable of arranging its diverse pieces in innovative ways without losing her ear for melody.

Voice’s Choices: “Little Acorns,” “Daisies, Cats and Spacemen,” “Deflect”

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