Photo courtesy of NNA Tapes

LEYA and the Art of Instrument Twisting

Adam Markiewicz and Marilu Donovan give their take on modern ambient with violin and harp on the new LEYA album, The Fool.

The Fool
NNA Tapes
11 May 2018

LEYA is a different kind of musical duo, and they want you to know it. According to their label NNA Tapes, violinist Adam Markiewicz of the Dreebs and harpist Marilu Donovan “aim to deconstruct the traditional connotations” of their instruments by “altering their sound through unorthodox tunings, extended techniques, amplification, and effects”. As far as what genre this belongs in, the label goes on to claim that LEYA “write pop songs with simple, transparent forms”. I understand the tunings, techniques, and effects bit, but to say that LEYA write pop songs of any kind is pretty misleading.

Their debut album The Fool is a very slow, languid slab of ambient mood music that all runs together like the soundtrack to a yoga class. It’s also shorter than most meditation sessions, with eight songs lasting just 28 minutes. The vocals aren’t so much lyrics to be song as they are vowels to be stretched over several bars. With the exception of a spoken word passage from the track “SD2” performed by who I believe to be Markiewicz, Donovan’s vocal contributions remain a wordless coo to me, which is perfectly appropriate for the music at hand. It could be that this is Markiewicz and Donovan’s idea of pop music. Judging from the publicity photos, LEYA seem comfortable in portraying the concept that they aren’t sure of what’s going on or where they are right now.

The song’s titles are just as cryptic as the music itself: “Cats”, “Swoon”, “Sister”, “Seek”. They do go so far as to name one of them “666” — disappointingly, it’s not evil enough. But nearly everything you need to know about LEYA’s sound can be found within the first ten seconds of The Fool‘s opener “Delilah”. A single violin note, sustained indefinitely, is eventually accompanied by a terribly odd chord from the harp. As “Delilah” pushes its way to the halfway point, very little changes in its structure. Markiewicz keeps sounding off the same note as Donovan’s twisted arpeggios change ever so slightly. Eventually, he finds a new set of notes to sustain as the two begin to harmonize in falsetto voices. “Delilah” is The Fool‘s longest track and it tell you everything you need to know about LEYA’s sense of dynamics and pacing. The exceptions to this “norm” are tucked away in the album’s second half.

One is the aforementioned “SD2”, a stream-of-consciousness ramble that sifts through many abstract images only to occasionally return to the refrain “forget it; it’s gone, you’ll never need it again.” A sampled crunch in the bottom of the mix is the closest thing any of these songs have to a tempo. The other deviation in formula is at the end of “Seek”, the perfect backdrop to a fever dream that breaks down into indecipherable screams.

The remaining moments of The Fool glide by like some shapeless object floating down the river at night. Sometimes it can’t help but snag my attention. Other times, I forget it’s playing. But this is the way it goes when you make music that aspires to be admired and studied when really just straight-up enjoyment will do.

RATING 5 / 10