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The NBT Review 130
Lossless – Lilo (Independent Release)
Reviewed by by Cobus Rossouw AKA 88KOS
Picture © Ryan Joffe
Confession: This album has so many personal touchpoints for me that it is inevitable that this will be a good review. The source of this bias is threefold and relates to the personnel on LILO’s new album “lossless”.
The first is Alexander Sudheim. He has been the genius behind LILO for more than a decade, running through many incarnations. Once, many years ago we shared the stage for two nights, at the Abelarde Sanction and at Silver Creek in Pretoria. He has steadily championed an alt country/lo-fi aesthetic and I rank him alongside Malkmus as inspiration. If you can find “Light me a Lucifer” from 2002, buy it.
Lossless, his latest offering, also features the talents of Chris Letcher and Richard Haslop. Chris Letcher is responsible (alongside Matthew van der Want) for one of my favourite albums of all time, “Low Riding”, and Richard possesses the kind of musical knowledge that means he is always right about everything musically. His print articles are part of my staple diet of music lit and his radio shows (when I managed to catch them) have always been enlightening in their scope and depth. He also plays a truly mean guitar!
So you have a trio of minds; a challenger of convention, a musical savant and a library of all that has gone before, contributing to a stripped down collection of songs. Forgive me if reviewing this effort is therefore slightly daunting.
The songs are, with the exception of “Forgiven” and “To FloreAnne on her 25th birthday”, arranged for guitars and voice. This leaves space for the songs to build an atmospheric tension, the kind you feel before a highveld thunderstorm. Sudheim’s lyrical intensity is undiminished (how do you maintain this kinda output for over a decade?) and his words carry the songs throughout. No mean feat considering there are 17 tracks on this offering. The density of his imagery is such that the album only unfolds after several listens. This doesn’t mean it’s a hard listen, in fact the music is immediately accessible and for an album of such sparse arrangement there is ample instrumental meaning underpinning Sudheim’s voice. Letcher’s skills as an arranger and Haslop’s way with a guitar create the perfect backdrop for Sudheim’s dark muse.
Honestly, sometimes I don’t even know how they’ve achieved this sublime sound. When Butcher Boy unfurls into techicolour rivers of strings (at 1:50), combining, flowing, twining… I find myself transported to a place where only Tindersticks could have taken me before. It’s a heaven that I love, it’s what angels sound like in my religion. If that single minute was all they’d produced I’d still feel they were gods, but this beauty doesn’t stop, each track builds its own character. Take “Sonnet for Tamara” – here the guitar builds from a simple twanging figure over a slide guitar into shimmering surf chords that eventually break into distorted walls of reverb wash. It’s like an anxiety attack that hangs behind the lyrics and it makes my little brain pop.
Lyrically there are recurring themes of circular reference, exercises in futility, failures in understanding. The loves, the hurts, all the despair is carved out in relief, our detachment, our inability to deal with each other in any honest manner, all laid bare. A way with words, Sudheim should get far more attention from the South African music press and I can only hope that more of them will listen to this album.
Lossless is almost entirely flawless. I say almost because there is one track that I simply do not understand. Not the song itself, but the way in which it is presented. It’s a personal feeling, a personal preference that makes the last song on the album a bit of a letdown, but the first 16 songs are of such transcendent quality that I would not be surprised to find that I am alone in this sentiment.
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