Leila Adu Brings Her Darkly Surreal Psychedelic Soul to Williamsburg

by delarue

Leila Adu sings a singular blend of psychedelic soul and art-rock, with frequent and often disquieting detours into the avant garde. Her music has echoes of Kate Bush, and Amy X Neuburg, and maybe Amanda Palmer, and also draws on Adu’s Ghanian/New Zealander heritage. Her lyrics have a bitingly aphoristic, stream-of-consciousness quality in the same vein as Jane LeCroy. The singer has a brand-new ep, Love Cells – streaming at Bandcamp – and an album release show coming up on June 29 at 7 PM at National Sawdust.  She shares the bill with electronic salad-spinners O Paradiso and the sometimes sepulchrally minimalist, sometimes nebulously intense Nico Turner. Cover is $15.

The ep’s opening, title track is a trip-hop slow-jam number that wouldn’t be out of place in the catalog of another, more famous singer with the same last name. “Find your passion ’cause the world ain’t gonna save you,” she suggests. What’s refreshing about it is that the requisite ka-chunk beat is organic rather than synthetic. Track two, Surrogate Suspect is a surreallistically altered take on a creepy circus rock waltz: “There’s lots of marauding idiots out there, look a gift horse in the mouth,” Adu asserts. For what it’s worth, it may be the only song released this year to mention eating pork pies.

Adu wastes no time shifting to horror movie cadences in Satellite Head, an angst-fueled, richly lyrical escape anthem:

Got no money for a taxi and I don’t have a car
But I’m alive
You put a full stop on my life
I used to run at night, now there is no…
I get up a six, travel a twelve-hour day
But I’m around
I’m forgetting your name, but I’m alive
It’s an adult’s game, it’s not all right
I pray that I don’t crystallize

Adu follows that with Je T’Aime, a solo vocal miniature with jaunty, jazzy, multitracked harmonies.

Horror in Black and White takes a sharp turn back to scampering, phantasmagorical menace, a caustic look at racial tension. Adu brings the album full circle, back to loopy trip-hop with The City and the Voodoo Lady and its woozy 90s acid jazz vibe. The album’s persistent unease takes a step back here, at least temporarily, Adu’s ambitious lyrics grounded by her uncluttered, precise, direct vocals. This is one of the most intriguing and individualistic short albums to come over the transom in recent months.