ALBUM REVIEW: Liela Moss – ‘Who the Power’: pop that takes one last dance as the world ends

OVER the past couple of years and one very warmly received LP, Duke Spirit member and Bella Union solo artiste Liela Moss  – watch your vowel placement with care, folks – has carved herself something of a niche for a strong and dark pop draught, heady with intensity, 80s’ melodicism, courage and a complete willingness to pick away at the sometimes painful wounds of her subject matter.

She releases her second for Bella Union, Who The Power, this Friday, August 7th.  And it follows faithfully her remit of drawing what positivity we can from a pretty screwed-up and negative tableaux: “If you’re going to deconstruct the modern psyche,” she says, “you might as well dance to it.”

And there’s no doubting the strength of her intent on opener “Turn Your Back Around”, the video you can watch down below the words. Big tribal tom polyrhythms skitter in under widescreen synth washes, Liela intoning with power over all.

Watch her, hooded and screened, give it free and flexing movement in the ballet studio; and is it only me, or is that surging chorus breathing new life into a bruised and starcrossed pop sound we’ve not heard since Pet Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield”? “I didn’t think I would miss you in this life,” she pays off. You’d be quaking were it you in her sights.

She says of the song, which she released as a final taster for the album: “It’s almost game over for the planet. I’m enjoying one filthy, upbeat, downhearted close-your-eyes-and-dance by-yourself pop song and offering it as a parting gift to Mother Earth. 

“It’s a lament, at an urgent bpm.”. 

Let’s raise a final glass as the band plays one last song.

“Watching the Wolf” is a heavy synth grind, dark and sexy, threatening. It concerns the intensified struggle of modern life: “Take, take you down / By pulling myself the front.” She isn’t afraid to drop the C-bomb at her nemesis. Watch that line get sung out when she’s out gigging, in the AfterThis.

“Atoms at Me” rocks; yearns; seeks. “I need to break out in the open,” Liela sings, and boy ain’t we all felt that this summer. Crawl those walls. Synths pulse brightly and guitars shriek in the distance. It sets up for the deep, arch-gothic drama of “Always Sliding” which, to me, has a real Russian thing. It lets Liela’s vocal soar through the deep cloudbank and find light above.

“White Feather” steers back towards the sound of Bella Union’s boss Simon Raymonde’s former home, 4AD, with big, effects-pedal guitar shimmer, a perfect springboard for her to fly on the chorus. “The predator is you,” she glides. Note, as with “Watching the Wolf”, the invocation of dreamstate archetypes, the darkness within a whisper of where you might be right now.

Corresponding with “Watching the Wolf” in a different way is the “Battlefield”. It’s dark and down round your hips; it seems to rise from that exact moment when the hurt of a love begins to crystallise as new power, the rejection of pain; that first snarl of rebirth. It’s big and unashamedly so; it’s gonna kill it live (Yes, I am yearning for the tremendous catharsis of the live show; aren’t you?).

“Nummah” sees Liela right on the top of that amazing vocal power she’s gifted with. She’s proper vulnerable here. Does she know her subject enough to give them her trust? All the while a very British circa ‘81 synth chatter folds in around her, shadowy, tipping towards distortion, pacing it out.

“Suako” is rockist, proud, has a really European vocal melody in that middle interval: exotic, seductive, and it breaks into full graceful flight; and hear closer “Stolen Careful” and fail to be moved, I dares ya; it drops you back so quickly you have to quickly consider and feel just where she’s taken you. It ebbs like mercury and you’re back on shore suddenly without that dark light as a guide.

 If you had Liela’s voice you could sing any sort of troubles away. In that she stands for us, is in some ways our soothsayer; she tells stories, scoops them from her soul, says it hard and true. 

Liela Moss’s Who The Power is released by Bella Union on digital, CD and limited yellow vinyl on Friday, August 7th. Place your order at the Bella Union shop, here.

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