Elisa Luu – Un Giorno Sospeso

Adrian MacDonald / July 9, 2012

Score: 9.0/10
Hidden Shoal
Elisa Luu 

The cover art gets you started — standing in a tall building, looking at the city through huge windows as the sun lies low on the horizon, the moment stretching out. Elisa Luu‘s music has this sense of intimacy and discovery about it, something like swimming underwater with a school of porpoises, but with a deep intelligence that’s never sentimental or sanctimonious. There are definitely no pan flutes or whale songs in Luu’s ambient creations, as they are composed of synthetic, impossible-to-identify electronic gestures. Her tool kit of curious, tactile sounds continually catch you off guard; you’re always trying to figure out what they are and if they’re going to hurt you.

Opening tune “Flussigirl” flirts with a high pitched tone that could have more meaning to a dog’s ear than a human’s, until it flowers into a bouncing network of color, little trills and side modulations inside bigger patterns. The result is instantly mesmerizing. A brassy, spastic riff in the middle of “Se fosse per me” (“If it were not for me”) that sounds something like a shuffling herd of trumpets comes out of nowhere, magically conjuring a New Orleans jazz band for a giddy, groovy moment, then diffuses rapidly. She is no monk of the avant-garde — the songs clearly have groove, defining artful, philosophical spaces while retaining style and humor.

It’s easy to think about being submerged, soft waves undulating around and through you — but it’s almost certainly more exciting than this, as if the magnetic language of the marine fauna and all the world’s telecommunications were audible to you, vibrating through the watery medium. At the same time, there is a narrative journey through each space, the skilled hand of the artist guiding you through the unknown.

Stylistically, a certain love of repetitive figures suggests the influence of Steve Reich, but this is only one strategy among many for Luu — overall her vibe is much more than just about repetition, also about the spaces between tones, optimizing the tension and friction therein. “Prima di…” has a whole buildup that feels like having a deep emotional connection to the sound of a plane taking off, or else some kind of industrial HVAC machinery. “Qui” lingers in the space between slowly sawing violins, accentuating friction and noise, but with a soft, subtonal weave that segues into an almost Neil Young-ish take on electric strings.

In many places, she isn’t afraid to apply some sexy drum rhythms that put the album into a comfortable zone that could be played in mixed company. Her thoughtfulness is not lost in these instances — the beats are never cop-outs, and never break the continuity of the music’s character — they seem more like a shot of espresso between meditations on modern art paintings.

The saddest moment is when the album ends, because of how short and fleeting it is — you want to stay in it forever. These missives from the consciousness of Elisa Luu embrace you in codes, like having a conversation with a dear friend, and what they say more than anything else is that she appreciates you — she seems to have a feeling for who you are and who you could be, and it’s encouraging. You could make a film or a slideshow of your life or your art to go with it and no matter what, this soundscape would pull your story toward cool, disciplined discoveries.

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