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U&I Harry Sword , February 13th, 2012 10:04

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Iranian-born Leila Arab has operated within a firmly independent niche of electronic artistry since 1998. Making her musical debut playing live (keyboards and vocals) with Bjork, and releasing her first LP on Aphex Twin’s Rephlex Records, she has since found a logical home on Warp. Crackling with emotional resonance and a subversive approach to formal arrangement - and using a very broad sound palette - her tracks tend toward the submerged and reflective. However, where previous outings have been somewhat pensive, this is a different proposition, abrasive, uncomfortable and obtuse, and shot through with skewed beauty.

The IDM boom of the mid-to-late 90s offered a logical counterbalance to an electronic mainstream in thrall to the ghoulish spectres of superclub/DJ, serious money and bloated excess. In dance music, the 80s happened in the 90s. Indeed, at that time artists such as Leila stood out amongst a blitzed landscape of generic rigidity. Now, with multifarious electronic artists the norm and the very concept of genre semi taboo in certain circles, this is no longer really the case. The very term ‘IDM’ now seems redundant and rather twee.

With hard-edged musical distinctions reduced to so much rubble - and a market crowded like never before with wilfully diverse beats - these are lean times for artists whose stock in trade has always been eclecticism. This is not to say that Leila’s music sounds less interesting than before. But in a landscape that has, in a few short years, given birth to idiosyncratic artists at a rate of knots - Actress, Mount Kimbie, Shackleton, Machinedrum, Ital and Kassem Mosse, for example - it certainly sounds safer.

Opener ‘Of One’ combines deep atmospherics with test card frequency manipulation, creating a relatively serene minute before ‘Activate I’ combines staccato electro bass with a fierce stepping, militarised beat. The stuttering chopped vocals create a discordant punk energy, perfectly offset with trill synth. Third track ‘All Of This’ is somewhat drab by comparison, with groggy bass underpinning a sombre vocal from Mt Sims.

Perhaps most immediate is ‘Welcome To Your Life’ - a great subversive pop song, propelled by that hard steppers beat again, only this time layered with some fine chopped break work, as Mt. Sims repeats “Seeing without your eyes for the first time! Welcome to your life again!”

Another affecting piece is the moving, childlike, melody of ‘Eight’, which offers respite from the LP’s noisier extremes. Resplendent with a richly satisfying 80s Lynchian sonic sheen, you can almost see the white paint on the picket fence. The only complaint here is the length; its scant three minutes could happily have been looped for eight.

The album's latter half, though, does not maintain its early momentum. The electro-by-numbers of ‘Boudica’ would not have sounded out of place on Ed Banger circa 2005 – never a good thing - while ‘Interlace’ is made up simply of derivative white noise.

Mt. Sims lends his vocals to a majority of the tracks. His voice veers from distorted spoken word passages to a tremulous mournful tenor. At best, as on ‘All Of This’ he sounds weighty and authoritative. On other tracks, though, his delivery is too stilted for his tumultuous surroundings. The caustic ‘Collony Collapse Disorder’, for example, cries out for some vocal grit to match the volleying chaos of distorted reece stabs and pounding kicks.

But while there are undoubtedly a number of interesting tracks here, it is debatable how well they work together. With judicious editing U & I could have made a truly killer EP. As an album, however, it’s hindered by a proliferation of ponderous filler. And although there is some really vital material on display, it suffers the misfortune of being born into an electronic landscape that is currently trading on an uncommonly high bar.

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Feb 13, 2012 7:31pm

dear me, i really am having to defend this fucker.....but let's play....

interlace "derivative".....well spotted. It's a cheap little joke of a track to highlight and ridicule the exaltation of this kind of rubbish music by so much of the press...and funnily enough a whole load of numpties are saying that this is in fact a highlight......

boudica....... ed banger...?....i must take back that brownie point....this track is all about moroder via human league. Neither the melodies or production have anything to do with the cynical compression side chain lager (or red wine) ethic of that lot, so your assessment is inaccurate and rooted in the silly modern mentality that the history of culture is forever only 10/20 years old.

The track "eight" made to last eight minutes......u what? would then cease to be my nod to the 80's synth no...u want it to last longer, please feel to do it yourself in fruity loops or's 130 bpm and 4/4....enjoy yourself.

You have misspelt "colony" (this is an aside..) but to want grit in the vocal? this would be obvious and silly and would dilute the overall tension...but i could have mixed the vocals a bit bad.....

Matts delivery on these songs is about the "separateness". The machines are bloodied and the human is but a spectator and yet again and again journalists are wanting simplistic sentiment from the vocals...fuck that.

the ""high bar of current electronic music"?.....therein lies the rub.....i use electronics to make music but i really don't make electronic music.
Here is where you are ALL confused......... my mixing has more to do with phil spector than idm or whatever nonsense you think it is i do.

on a sad note........ i just did a quick scan of what u have referred to as "the high bar of current electronic music"....really?.....dear dear me......"wilfully diverse beats".....where?........

on a happy note.....yes, actress is pretty good......he likes drexciya, always a good sign.

thank you anyway.


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Feb 13, 2012 8:19pm

In reply to iamleila:

Very well argued points. Tremendous respect.

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Feb 13, 2012 9:36pm

Hi Leila,

I can only go on what I hear. Music is a personal affair - I wasn't privy to your inner intentions, although it's interesting to hear about them now.

I didn't get the Human League influence for Boudica - I felt it was a garish heavy duty, modern, electro dancefloor track, hence the Ed Banger comparison.

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Feb 13, 2012 10:05pm

In reply to :

Hit send before I'd finished.

I really don't think that there is a 'modern mentality that the history of culture is 10/20 years old'. Quite the opposite - if that was the case, there wouldn't be so much slavishly sentimental music journalism, obsessing over a well established canon.

Regarding your track 'eight'. I said that because I think it's a brilliant record, and I wanted more when it had finished. I wasn't suggesting that it 'should' have been longer, simply what I thought about it.

'The high bar of electronic music, dear dear me' Well, I stand by all the artists I name checked in the review - I'm continually excited by new electronic music, every single day. If you don't feel your making electronic music, fair play. But - to my ears - you are continually referencing it, and your also choosing to release your records on one of the most important electronic record labels of all time.

Cheers, and all the best


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Feb 16, 2012 3:12pm

In reply to :

thank you for for your reply mr turner,
i have just sent the email below to piers martin who kindly did an interview with me for your magazine.

hello dear boy,
i just found out that the critic who "reviewed" my album in quietus is in fact one of the main editors.
i could forgive it when i thought he was a kid (his defence of his precious "electronic music" was rather touching), but a grown-up....
sorry, but i'd rather u don't use it please.
i am really sorry if u have spent time transcribing it, but i think a magazine run by someone who doesn't know the difference between "your" and "you're" and who signs off a reply to me with "cheers, all the best" is fucking joking. for the stuff he referenced as "high calibre"?........fucking hell.......same vague, contained, generic muzak people have always made........comforting, easily digestible and mildly moving (emotionally or literally) as an aside....rubbish.

speak soon.

.......cheers indeed.......

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Feb 16, 2012 10:42pm

In reply to iamleila:

I had some interest in hearing this album until these posts. Critics may be a problematic point of mediation between artefact and audience but as this demonstrates they're sometimes less problematic than the artist.

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Feb 18, 2012 1:44pm

Dear mr SWORD,

i think i must apologise for my little outburst as i have found that you are in fact a young journalist.

i was preparing something for the radio and, whilst listening to the duchamp dialogues, i realised that this role of the spectator is something that is really not for me to debate or question...unfortunate but true.
i make music for myself and am lucky enough to have people put it out for me. the label is somewhat irrelavent to me, it is about the people involved. the warp lot are pretty awesome and steve loves the fact that i use the machines to make music that is unlike anyone else.
so if i sent you a christmas card in an envelope that referred to birthdays, is it still not a christmas card? the story does not lie in the packaging.
the listener can think/feel what they like but i remain concerned by the qualifications of the bastions of culture.
i am happy with a simple bad criticism but when they are based on erroneous assumptions, i get wound up.
when i want harmony i go to satie or chopin, when i want beats i go to the harder end of "electronic music" and when neither is quite enough......i make some noise.
i actually don't like the vaguely music nature of most electronic music; they are impressionists and i am an expressionist.

apologies again mr sword and i appreciate that this kind of bloodied racket is not for you.


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Mar 1, 2012 3:36am

In reply to iamleila:

The review was hardly a savaging; no need to be defensive about it. The review actually sent me to the record, and I am enjoying it quite a bit. Congratulations on it.

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Mar 26, 2012 10:11pm

Oh dear, all getting a bit 'excited' here.

Just wanted to say, whichever genre it fits into, Boudica is a fantastic track. I keep playing it.


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