Sunday, October 31, 2010
It happens every year: critic sits down to shape up a best music year-end list, fretting mightily that some new or relatively unknown artist or band will slip through the cracks after months of hearing everything as well as the unavoidable selective listening. It does help that they’re so many other indie-heads out there proclaiming ‘must-listen to’ types but for every FrYars or Jenny Wilson that I’ve unearthed there have been bands like The XX or producers like The Dream that leave me cold with indifference. It’s a fine line but one that most artists either fall into or against right away.
Ninca Leece, however, is a different type of proposition because I’m still not sure where her aesthetic is heading. Her debut begins with the track Touriste, a minimalistic dance number that reminds one of Bjork circa 1993. This is a good thing but the time-line is very important too because that was when our favorite Icelander dropped Debut, a delightfully weird, abstract project, full of great ideas like Human Behavior and Venus as a Boy. She wasn't yet at the height of her genius but at the point where its realisation was obvious. Unfortunately, Leece hasn’t armed herself with such variety here but what she gives off instead is a strong batch of house songs that are homogeneous to the dotted tee. It's a little rough around its edges but something epic is amid all this repetitiveness. Whereas Bjork or even Wilson use dramatic flourishes, Leece throws in electronic programming and children voices (The Uncut Version). There’s nothing edgy here either nor does she have a signature guttural growl but this isn’t comfort music for elevators or Bookophilia-browsing (sake for Love Song). This is la-la club music, at times blurred with techno and propulsive beats that DJs will be manipulating throughout the year. A track like Division, with its groovy one-liner, feels like a smug but deserving victory lap.
When Ninca turns up the amps though then her grooves go for days. On Top of the World introduces guitars and a lovely vocal wrap before the house beats collapse upon everything. Like a Tattoo is her only real head-on vocal workout and it’s gorgeous, replete with synths that enhance the taunt nature of the track. Its way too short but it’s the heralding of a great promise once she adds sensuality to the mix. Funny Symphony throws in fuzzy bass lines and blissful French, just like how her country-woman Camille does and the pastiche effect is strong. You’re Walking in My Head would fit into any club, remixed or not. When she croons, ‘somewhere between coffee and shower/ you’re still there/ wishing I could spend all day with you,’ then inserts the chorus with spray-gun synths, she finally achieves an originality that didn’t seem likely.
For, let there be no doubt, Leece does run into a few stumbling blocks with There is No One Else… because the music is so at odds with her intent. Maybe it is the two-tier genre effort that burdens her sound but techno is by nature monolithic while dance music must mutate constantly for survival. Any attempt to bridge the gap between both must walk that proverbial fine line. At times, it seems Leece scurries back from the challenge: The Beast has to suffer throughout five minutes of tediousness before some life kicks into it: all of fifty-two seconds! Aseptique is a lovely chillwave track but an instrumental piece nonetheless.
That leads right back to the point that maybe what Leece needs more than superfluous execution now is time to master her ideas. She needs time to grow out of her self-consciousness and critics, like myself, eager to pile on the early-Bjork years comparisons. The dance-hippie slant is fraught with many artists this year alone: Glasser, Avery Tare and Nedry can all claim great songs (Apply, Heads Hammock and Squid Cat Battle, respectively) but middling to just okay albums. Ninca doesn’t have that one defining song here but an album simmering with uniformly interesting stuff. I don’t know if that’s something music execs and impatient fans are willing to watch blossom but they should. I do know that it’s fascinatingly indecisive though, just as how Bjork was when she just started out. I need not to remind you how brilliant her career turned out afterwards with back-to-back masterpieces (Post in ’95 and the career-defining Homogenic in ’97). I’m not saying Leece has such an exalted trajectory in store but she’s unto something fantastic here, mark my words. And if she does evolve into the second French version of Bjork (Camille is the first) then I’ll be a genius for pitching it up now when it eventually happens, hopefully somewhere in the not too far future.