The Blind Year
2nd April 2014
When I first started doing the radio lark back in 2009 one of the first “new” bands I chanced upon was an excellent New York combo called Renminbi, who I featured at the time. They then morphed into Magnetic Island who also produced some excellent material, and then, as it ever was in the busy world of listening to new music, I sort of lost track of what they were up to. So today, when I got an e-mail from Lisa Liu – the guitarist in the aforementioned – who was introducing her new solo album to me, I was keen to find out what she has been up to in the intervening period.
Her biog on her website is quite illuminating and adds some context:
Lisa Liu grew up in sunny Southern California. At the age of 6, she started taking classical piano lessons and fell in love with Debussy and Brahms. At 13 she picked up the guitar and hasn’t looked back.
In 1999, LL moved to NYC and started playing in various indie/pop/post-punk/experimental bands including Danger, Giant Ranger!, Renminbi, and Le Rug. In 2005, she went back to music school and got her degree in jazz studies from Long Island University, Brooklyn. There, she studied with Robert Aquino, Sam Newsome,Tony Romano, and Carlo De Rosa.
LL has worked with venerable producer Don Fleming, scored a performance art piece for artist Mateo Tannatt, has written and released over 10 albums, and has toured the U.S. and Europe.
Currently based in Brooklyn, NY, Lisa plays guitar, keyboard, bass, and drums. Her current projects include Las Lanas, Magnetic Island, Mixed Doubles, a solo noise guitar project and two jazz projects. Her musical interests vary widely from folk, post-punk, indie, noise, and gypsy jazz to fingerstyle.
Because I hardly throw any music away that I get in, and in order to get some context, I trawled the hard discs for the Renminbi material (2009) and rediscovered the excellent “Surface” EP which sounds as good as it did five years ago – with a nod towards to Sonic Youth guitar/rhythm Lisa’s compelling and warm vocal style stands out as well as her fleet chord work. The Magnetic Island back catalogue proved to be more fulsome with a selection of singles and a debut album (2011) all of which still sound excellent. It was good to refresh my memory of these fine bands.
On then to this new album – Lisa is calling the project Las Lanas and the album is called “The Blind Year”. The trademark Liu song structures and beautiful vocals are still here, but the hard post-punk/rock of the previous bands is replaced by altogether more measured and ambient soundscape. The stage is set with the stunning opener “Lie and Sow” which is a confection of arpeggio finger style guitar rolling under a dreamy vocal from Lisa. Songs are predominantly solo vocal and guitar pieces, with solo vocal and piano or some keyboards added as texture in places. There is an effortless dreamy quality to the material, the recording is warm and natural with a strong positive feel to it.
Lisa cites Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, & Tori Amos as influencers for the album, and specifically the Drake reference comes through strongly – strong guitar work and moody, delicate, and hearfelt tunes. Of the album Lisa says “The album is called “The Blind Year” as a reference to a Chinese year that does not encompass a spring. In 2013, it was the year of the snake and a blind year. The superstition is that when it is a blind year, things don’t go quite right. My album is a response to it.”
This is one of the most delightful albums that I have heard this year and I recommend it to you unreservedly.