Ana Da Silva - The Lighthouse
(Chicks on Speed)
There is a very understandable reason that "Alchemist" never shows up when you do those career aptitude tests: it's not exactly a results-driven field. Imagine if they did include a what-would-you-rather-do question like:
(A) - Check business documents for accuracy and exposure of liability
(B) - Attend meetings on a daily basis
(C) - Extract mystic properties of metals in order to engage the sinewy magicks of God.
(D) - Answer phones for a law firm.
I think the overwhelming response would be (C). But unfortunately, our cultural advances have shown us that the turning mechanism of the Greater Orrery is greased by money and paper, and not by cosmic undercurrents. Thank you, civilization; I feel much better knowing that.
Fortunately, there are those who eschew the more profitable engagements in order to squeeze the blood they know is all up in that stone. Ana Da Silva is one of those characters. Her initial rise to prominence was as a member of the Raincoats, one of those many seminal post punk bands people in the know claim to recall, but no one ever would've, had Kurt Cobain, who turned out to be the Indiana Jones as well as the John Lennon of his generation, failed to recount that seeking out Ana at the antique store she ran in London, as one of the greatest trappings of his rock-starred-ness. The Raincoats had a similar fate to many of those little bands, a great scrappy first record, lackluster second and then an ill-fated reunion ten years down the road before calling it quits for real this time.
Lucky for us, she spent those quiet moments at the antique store (a job as close to alchemy as we can get these days) in the decades hence spinning gold out of her synthesizer and laptop and created this odd jewel of a record. At first, it seems to reside in the New Wave Revivalist category, with its breathy vocals wandering among the darkened wood of keyboard strains and quiet drum machine pulses, but there is something more articulate than that going on here. I understand she has spent her off-time as a painter of whispery semi-abstracts (this knowledge is culled only from other reviews, so this may be in fact the invention of us music critics who are compelled to justify out rock star worship by making them Real Artists) and this practice seems to have shaped the odd spare songs on The Lighthouse. The opening track "Friend" maintains an undercoat of alternating pulses and toy piano doorbells for Ana's spectral intonation threading through it. This build up incrementally in what can only be described as "rompiness" to the title track forming the axel of this puzzling little wheel. The odd stream of lyrics out of her feel as if they are images escaping from one of those what-the fuck dreams - "I want to get to the lighthouse/but the waves keep teasing me/backwards and forwards/ and backwards/I'm in darkness, I'm in darkness, the girl keeps running" Though I am loathe to say this, it reminds me a little of Kate Bush in her prime, that strident running amok in ones subconscious, but its not quite as anachronistic as a Kate Bush song would be now.
My favorite is the simple harmonium like drone of "Hospital Window" where touches of twangy guitar and piano and chiming pulses circle dance around in the ether, effectively creating the ambience suggested by its title. There are some less successful moments, like the PJ Harvey-like cabaret thing "Modinha" which unto itself is not bad, but think I've heard enough of these in the world for now. It picks up speed immediately after with the almost Erasure-grade technopop of "In Awe of a Painting" where she gets her Bjork on, giving us a buoyant glimpse on her internal life, later accompanied by what sounds for all the world like musical saws.
All in all, I found this album to be a singular experience, not a revolutionary move or a continental shift from that output of many female solo performers (it bears great similarities to Bjork, Juana Molina (who you owe it to yourself to hear if you haven't, but that diatribe is for another time), Kate Bush, Tori Amos even) but there is an icy resolve to it, a distinctly solid point of origin. She is not portraying characters or tearing out diary pages or trying to make you fall in love with her like many in the aforementioned list seem to be doing, but distilling off some of her spirit into this curious little clockwork of song and stirring out some gold from the baser elements.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com