2011/12/04

Lhasa de Sela - The unforgettable

A last album that leaves a mark

It's been 707 days since Lhasa de Sela's sad and shocking departure from our world. Only eight months after the release of her final self-titled album Lhasa she was no more. Some have speculated, as one does when these things happen, if she named it after herself to make it her final contribution to the world, that the album itself should be the vessel of her soul when the body was no more. Alas, this is probably not true because of the fact that she thought she had recovered from her illness during the album's release and then later in the year had a relapse. The reason behind the title is more likely to be a proclamation of identity. On Lhasa's command the entire recording was done using only analogue equipment, with the intent that it should also be listened to on vinyl. Compared with her previous album "The Living Road" it is also startlingly pure, beautiful and alive. This was Lhasa without compression, without manipulations and alterations. The album puts its listener closer to Lhasa than any other.


What Kind Of Heart by Lhasa de Sela

Where Do You Go by Lhasa de Sela

Anyone and Everyone by Lhasa se Sela

Perhaps it's this closeness and the unbearable tragedy which compels most music journalists to write extensively about her other two albums and in a short line mention her last album without comment. Or perhaps it is ignorance. Why do I say so? Well it's because Lhasa is the very best album of hers and most probably one of the very best albums of our time. Just take the setting for one thing. Almost the entire album is played on plucked strings; we have all kinds of guitars, double bass, harp, plucked violin. Nothing else except for some occasional pedal steel guitar blending in with the chiming notes of the other instruments, an odd piano and the jazz style drums. This choice of instruments makes Lhasa's voice pretty much the only sustained sound on the album and brings her vocals to the forefront in a magical way. No bowed strings, trumpets, flutes or accordions that are so prominent on the earlier albums. I've often found myself confusing the harp with the guitar and bass only to realise that they sound like one giant instrument, an immense string apparatus built by some mad genius. Then I let the thought go and get hypnotised by the vocals once more.


Lhasa de Sela is often described as elusive and mysterious, but I find that description rather odd. Few artists have dared to be so naked in front of a microphone. It is the rest of the world that is elusive, hidden behind a cloak. But this media image of her did not come from the music, it came from her sometimes erratic behaviour. At the peak of her breaking career after debut album La Llorona she left Montréal and the music world to join a circus in France with her sisters. She lived this life for several years and didn't return until 2003. Her songs often attempt to explain this wandering, escaping character trait, albeit in a minimalistic poetic form. The lyrics of Rising for instance:
I got caught in a storm
That's what happened to me
So I didn't call
And you didn't see me for a while
I was rising up
Hitting the ground
And breaking

Certainly a sensitive soul. The kind of fragility that brings with it an excellent ability to create and foster great art.
Lhasa de Sela will not be forgotten.

Spotity Links:
Lhasa (2009)
The Living Road (2003)
La Llorona (1997)
"Sometimes it hurts" (duet with Tindersticks (2003)
"That leaving feeling" (duet with Stuart A. Staples (2006)

Official Website



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