ALBUM REVIEW: A Lily – ‘Sleep Through The Storm’: bewitching tronica to guard us from where we’re at



JAMES VELLA, who for the business we are involved in herein fashions abstract, warm and enveloping soundscapery as A Lily (he also creates fine sounds in Brighton post-rock outfit Yndi Halda; but that’s for another day, another tale-telling), is concerned, as we all are in a humanist sense, with the dark period we’re currently living through: the rise of populism, arrogance, societal rifting, the ‘rona. 

In his schemata, the right-now is ‘The Storm’; the concept of which fully informs his forthcoming eight-track album for Bytes and his fifth overall, Sleep Through the Storm.

The sleeping through is the survival of this, the ways we’re finding to deal with it, cope with it, spread soothing balm on those torrents. How we sleep is a metaphorical proposition, and one we’ll be asking James to hopefully elucidate on in our forthcoming interview with him; although with the nights drawing in, the portent of a second surge hanging like a sword, perhaps a Lennonesque bed-in is an increasingly viable option. If you decide on this course, make sure you have Sleep Through the Storm in your dormer kit.

Slip inside the beautiful cover – a stylised sun oversees a mountainous land, rock, trees and river all bathed in the hue; sit down, immerse now.

James Vella, aka A Lily

We’re led in through the generative, hallucinatory seduction of “Endless Jasmine” – a sensuous and transporting sweep. If you’ve ever stood under a jasmine tree, you will know the overwhelming sensual caress it has, possibly the deepest scent you’ll ever smell, intoxicating, almost trippy; the track itself has a similar sense-bleeding effect, gradually shifting cyclical minimalism, with a bubbling figure pulsing in a systems-generated way, insistent above a shadowy layer of harmonic drone. Different narrative tones rise in and fall away.

When it was dropped as a single a few weeks ago, we said: “It draws on the tradition of Terry Riley and sounds the perfect accompaniment for say, a sundazed afternoon in some eroded limestone landscape; somewhere at once alien and organic. It’s ambient, but not quite; electronic, but not quite.” And d’you know what? We were on the money, there.

“A Softly Glitching Reality” follows, and may be the kindest description of where we find ourselves at. Things are … pretty glitchy, right? It has that wide, loud, magisterial tonal sweep you find in Boards of Canada, high glimmer as if observing the surrounding area from a heathy hilltop at the golden hour, lowering sun orbing. There’s this delightful lower register swoop which gives a yawing, dipping quality, making you feel as if mid-flight. The filter sweep gradually mutes the higher end, in a turning away; the melody coming at you over your shoulder.

And it’s that tonal reduction that carries us through the beautiful resonance of “The Singing Comet”, which really does have the feeling of galaxial trajectory, when the counterpoint, a more precisely modulated, singing shimmer, glides by. The initial atmosphere has that poise of a Tim Hecker track, where the resonances are pitching right on the edge of feedback, ringing loud.

“Slept Through The Storm” – a glimmer of light suggested for what PJ Harvey once summated as “This Mess We’re In” – the past tense. A suggestion that one day, we’ll play A Lily and the abiding resonance is that we’ll have made it. We’re finally awake. Take a listen below, we’ve embedded it for you: it’s far from sleepy, though wonderfully transporting.

He whirls you offworld into an inexorably layering chatter of generative tones and melodies, meshed close, cracking, distorting, never anything but melodic, but wrapping you tight. There’s crackling, swooping, vamping; it takes the minimalist theories of 60s’ advocates Terry Riley and others, and refashions those musical proposals for the post-rave generation and a more complex world.

“Colour The Senses” shifts down a touch from the towering, scathing beauty of “Slept Through The Storm”: almost a necessary adjunct, a coda; an autumnal mid-ground of chattering swell, silvered glimmer strengthening the meditative nature. “Kalimba Heart” is the shortest track of the eight, and yearns in a solitude of high tones, flute-like, the suggestion of a little backward masking. It’s fragile like a leaf skeleton and just as intricately pretty.

“Do Not Dash Your Feet Upon The Stone” plays out once more in that cyclical, minimalist bewitchery. The chattering tones, expansive, long-legged, graceful, pace us toward the horizon with accompanying organ warmth; an edge is lent by little shrieks out in the distance, by a distorted lead line with a postrock guitar feel. It’s a sound-landscape at once entirely welcoming and with unsettling dream-state touches, as if the flora contains sudden, new and eerie species.

We conclude our journey in the portentously titled “Slipped At The Edge Of The Pool”, which concept, open-ended as it is, suggests anything from a grazed knee to death; I’d say we’re maybe invited to think immersion, as the tones and melodies eddy around you.

James for the most part constructed the octet of tracks for Sleep Through The Storm live, looping and layering a single performance, and I think you can tell in the best sense: he hasn’t over-finessed the music into sterility. He knows that the truth and warmth and emotional heft of music so often lies in its organic nature, in the infinitesimal imperfection. And it works beautifully.

We’re also told that Sleep Through the Storm is “an expression of sadness and lament, but it is proof that there can be harmony and consonance in misery”: I’ll freely admit that for me, I found much thoughtfulness, depth, a certain introversion and level of self-exploration, with where we’re at in the year, an autumnal cast; but sad, no.

But then maybe that’s right; maybe that’s the catharsis that the best music achieves. Maybe I have some way of sleeping through the storm, and maybe A Lily armoured me well in a way I’ve yet to fully recognise.

One thing is odds on; should any kind of leftfield electronica be your bag, Sleep Through the Storm can only guard you against what’s unfolding.

A Lily’s Sleep Through The Storm will be released by Bytes on October 16th on digital and limited cassette formats, and may be pre-ordered now at the label’s Bandcamp page.

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