Album Review: Melanie de Biasio – Lilies (PIAS)

Dark and direct

Belgian chanteuse Melanie de Biasio established a stellar reputation with 2013’s No Deal, an album of smouldering jazz noire songs over dark and expansive soundscapes from piano, synth and drums. That album featured a song by Nina Simone, an artist to whom de Biasio is often compared despite the very different nature of their respective voices, what binds them is an inner strength that can be heard in the way they sing. No Deal was subsequently released as a remix and followed by Blackened Cities, an epic single track release that took up one side of the vinyl pressing. It too sounds spectacular thanks to a deep inky black ambiance.

Lilies is a more personal creation that de Biasio made on her own without the aid of a band as has been the case in the past, instead she “just wanted to retreat to a cave with my Pro-Tools, my computer, and my cheap, €100 Shure SM-58 microphone. I could have gone to a big studio, made a big production – but I wanted none of that. I wanted to go back to the seed of creativity, the simplest materials. I was in this room where there was no light, no night or day at all, no heat. Very uncomfortable. But I felt free. I was happy to have this feeling – ‘I don’t need more, I have everything I need here.”

The result is musically compelling and sounds remarkably good, not quite as expansive and deep as No Deal but given the circumstances a triumph of ‘bedroom’ recording. The style remains dark and direct, there’s no technical virtuosity to distract from the sultry inflections of de Biasio’s voice, which is good thing because she sings quietly at the best of times and can take it down to a whisper when the muse strikes. The opener Your Freedom is the End of Me tells a powerful story with the minimum of lines over a slowly smouldering musical backdrop. The follow up Gold Junkies (also released as single) is the most driven track of the nine, highly propulsive and atypical of her style it works by using the title as a modal refrain in a tight groove that gets it down and dusted in just over three minutes.

The title track is more subtle with piano over restrained synth and plenty of reverb, the vocal is close miked and intimate while she asks “Mr Jungle could you please/Come in closer, sweet will be?”. But as ever 90% of the message is in the way it’s sung not the words themselves.

All My Words is a great song, one that brings to mind a fellow master of the dark arts, Nick Cave, with lines such as “To the blossom of my lips they surrender”, but this is much more earthy than Cave. It’s an irresistible sensual dirge with a slow organ and synth backline that builds up but never explodes; there’s fire in this artist but it’s still under control. The album ends on a highlight with And My Heart Goes on. This has a primordial groove based around a heartbeat pulse and a song that’s reminiscent of Mister Heartbreak era Laurie Anderson. The only song to feature flute, a wooden one at that, it creates a powerful atmosphere that you don’t want to end. But this is a short album, too short, de Biasio knows how to keep you hungry for more.

Jason Kennedy

1 Comment

  • Bill May says:

    I bought the cd of Lilies because of my love of the stunning album No Deal. Not disappointed, what an absolute jem. It’s still dark and moody but in a fresher way, and Melanie has lost none of the control of her vocals as it would have been so easy to go hell for leather on a couple of the tracks. It makes my 683/2’s sing and especially in the midrange where the vocals are sharp and focused. It also made me get No Deal spinning again and you can see how She has lost none of the edge.

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