Smart, Pensively Relevant, Cross-Pollinated Tunesmithing From Emilie Lesbros’ Alter Ego
French singer/multi-instrumentalist Emilie Lesbros inhabits a unique and compelling space at the intersection of jazz, indie classical and the avant garde. Take a listen to her woundedly elegant, eerily hypnotic reinvention of the old French protest song La Semaine Sanglante with the trio Single Room, with cellist Julia Kent and electric harpist Rafaelle Rinaudo. Lesbros also has an alter ego, Miss Elie Sorbsel, who writes bitingly contemplative songs that veer closer to rock, blues and soul music. She’ll be playing those songs from her new album Miss Elie Sorbsel Sings Emilie Lesbros (streaming at Bandcamp) on a pretty amazing triplebill this Thursday, March 12 at 9 PM at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 236 E 3rd St. with the guy who’s arguably the best and most relevant English-language lyricist on the planet, the Coup’s Boots Riley, plus vivid, improvisationally-inclined violinist/singer Sarah Bernstein. Cover is $10.
Lesbros plays guitar and sings in both English and French on the new album. Both the promise and danger of revolution are recurrent themes. The gloomy, noir blues-tinged opening track, Nothing At All has a slow, uneasy sway and a couple of long, achingly soaring vocal crescendos. “I am a dangerous woman, I can take my gun anywhere, anytime,” Lesbros (or is it Sorbsel? They sound a lot alike) sings on Les Marionnettistes, an edgy downtown soul-funk 99-percenter anthem driven by JJ Jungle’s terse bass and Hassan Hurd’s drums.
Cross the Bridge builds from a skeletal intro to a more insistent groove that’s part growly 80s postpunk and part guardedly optimistic soul ballad, with an aptly wary bass solo out. From there they segue into an intense, amped-up version of the Single Room song Don’t Lock Me Out, a careening, crescendoing power-to-the-people anthem. Speak Up mashes up hints of flamenco and early lo-fi PJ Harvey underneath Lesbros’ insistent, firebrand lyricism. The album winds up with High Higher, contrasting Lesbros’ flights to the upper registers against hypnotically stately bass chords. It’s an individualistic, relentlessly relevant bunch of songs, one of the best to come over the transom here this year.