LEYA and the Art of Instrument Twisting

Photo courtesy of NNA Tapes

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.






Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".


Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".


The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.


July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.


With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.


Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.


MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.


Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.


Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.


John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.