It’s been 10 years since London-based Iranian musician Leila Arab made a mark with her peerless debut, Like Weather. She’s only allowed one other full-length audio venture to seep out in the intervening time: Courtesy of Choice, which was released by XL in 2000. Unusually for a musician who works in the field of electronic music, her music has barely aged. If anything, her work slowly reveals more textures and layers as the years pass.
If you look closely you’ll find a small picture of Leila on the Roger Dean-ish album art. The picture is of Leila and her trusty bike, and it’s the same photograph she’s used throughout her career. Seeing it here in 2008 is like welcoming an old friend back to the fold, and listening to much of Blood, Looms, and Blooms engenders a similar feeling.
Longtime collaborators Luca Santucci and Leila’s sister Roya once again return to provide intermittent vocal duties. Other more famous names (Terry Hall, Martina Topley Bird) also contribute. But this is Leila’s album, and her sonic pallet is once again refreshingly diverse and free of influence. It’s easy to imagine her bolted up in a studio for the past eight years, dwelling in a hermetically sealed cultural vacuum where she conjures up queasy electronic sounds shorn of all reference points.
Anyone scrambling to recognize influences will be left with scraps. The distorted circuitry of “Molie” occasionally resembles something from Massive Attack’s Mezzanine; the wonderfully silly “Little Acorns” recalls the loungetronica of San Francisco’s Tipsy. But for the most part, Blood, Looms and Blooms is a singular, matchless album. It’s rare to hear something this unique, this alive.
Special mention should be made of the contributions from Santucci and Roya, whose vocals seem custom built for Leila’s strain of downbeat electronica. Santucci’s cover of “Norwegian Wood” bears such little resemblance to the Beatles’ original that it’s barely recognizable. Roya’s contribution to “Daisies, Cats and Spacemen” turns the track into a beguiling torch song. It’s a great shame she didn’t contribute more to the record.
The difficult gestation period of Blood, Looms and Blooms, which was marked by the death of Leila’s parents, has undoubtedly left its mark on the album, and it’s said she may have been on the verge of giving up music altogether. But, like the return of Portishead and My Bloody Valentine, Leila’s reemergence is another welcome surprise in a year that’s been full of them.