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Learning From Falling - Lamya

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      29.11.2003 21:16
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      .................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................................................................................. ................. Thanks to the combination of a Dooyoo recommendation (thanks thediscerning!) and a 3 for £5 album offer in a local record shop, I became the proud owner of Lamya's debut album 'Learning From Falling'. Born to Omani parents in Kenya, she settled in Sheffield and worked with a whole host of artists including Soul II Soul, Duran Duran and D
      avid Bowie before opting to fly solo with this fascinating blend of musical styles. Lamya's voice is a little like the throaty richness of Skye from Morcheeba occasionally via the middle-eastern delivery of Ofra Haza. A trained opera singer, she uses her voice as an instrument over a mixture of lazy hip-hop beats with some orchestral and world music elements. Whilst it might sound like a recipe for pretentious music for the dinner-party giving young professional, it is refreshingly accessible. This is thanks to the involvement of Nellee Hooper who has produced some of the most memorable albums of the past couple of decades, such as Massive Attack's 'Blue Lines' and Bjork's 'Debut'. His ability to develop rich multi-layered instrumentation without swallowing up a good vocal is second to none and used to great effect on 'Learning From Falling'. The album's opener 'Empires' is the undoubted highlight. With an epic, filmic quality, it is a complex soundscape that gets better with every listen. It reminded me of an artist called Helicopter Girl who was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize a few years ago, with its almost fairytale feel. Even set amongst his impressive portfolio, it is one of Hooper's best works in recent years. 'East Of Anywhere', which was used on the soundtrack to Dawson's Creek unbelievably enough, is one of the more commercial songs on offer, but maintains interest thanks to the quality of the vocal. 'Black Mona Lisa' is also very radio-friendly, and seems to be influenced by Soul II Soul in its structure. Two versions of this song are included on the album, with the original version proving to be the superior version. A nice summery tune, it harks back to some of the overlooked quality RnB that was produced in Britain in the mid-1990's. One track of particular interest is 'The Woman Who' which samples the beautifu
      l 'Les Fleur' by Minnie Riperton, famous for her much-covered track 'Loving You'. It was a particularly interesting choice of sample given that drum n bass pioneers 4Hero had covered the song just the year before. That said, 'The Woman Who' is still a well-constructed track that is perfect to chill-out to and an undoubted highlight. Lyrically, there is an element of 'strong woman' about many of the songs. On the surface, this is currently the norm for solo female singers, but by dealing with darker topics such as alcohol abuse (the engaging 'Never Enough') give a more complex edge on proceedings. There is a poetic feel to all of the lyrics, such as on the lush 'I Get Cravings' which is a refreshing change from the cliched album fodder of many. Perhaps one criticism could be that a little bit more of the Middle-Eastern influences on 'Empires' could have been applied to make some of the other tracks sparkle. Whilst songs such as 'Judas Kiss' and 'Full Frontal Fridays' are OK, they are pretty indistinctive and don't do her voice justice. However, there is very little that slipped under the quality radar and it stands up by itself as a fine debut. Like so many good albums that seem to try something different, it seems to fall between too many stools to be commercially successful. Despite the influence of some of RnB's biggest names on the production, it lacks sirens, Cristal references and bling-bling to ever be categorised in that category nowadays. It is also too laid-back and soulful to be essential for dance fans, and too British to be world music. However, it's well worth checking out for genre-blind music buyers who want to try something a little different that's still quite easy on the ear.

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        30.09.2003 18:20
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        Actually, no, it was a bright and sunny afternoon, when theediscerning decided he wished to combine sunbathing and listening to slightly exotic, ?different? yet light music. Thus he took his hi-fi out to the back garden, put the Lamya CD inside, and turned to track 2. The first sound that greeted him was a surprise, to say the least. We?ll get to track one in due course, but a very poppy, lightweight Atomic Kitten shuffle rhythm was *not* what he expected to hear. The song laid over the top, East of Anywhere, seemed to be a mediocre song about seeking exoticism and a new life elsewhere, but the pop music background was a major let down. Plus the chorus didn?t rhyme. Track three, Black Mona Lisa, had a nearly decent rhythm based around a peculiar sort of bubbling-below sound, and a balladic tempo, if not subject. However it seemed that most of the tune was being carried by the vocals and not the instrumentation, save for some easy-sounding strings under the chorus. Track four didn?t hit with much favour, either. The instrumentation, even more than the preceding tracks, just reeked of naff, safe, American radio pop guitars, with little electronica bits, while the song seemed to take a serious subject and insulted it by its Box-friendly, generic approach. The next three minutes seemed a mixture of tracks two and four ~ more Atomic Kitten shuffle, and while the song never outstayed its welcome, the repetitions within lines seemed rather unnecessary. Full Frontal Fridays, the title given to track six, helped matters no further. Ironically, too, it seemed to be a song partly about cheap, bland pop music, with references to thongs and videos. The vocals on this listen at least seemed to be full of OTT diva-wannabe trills, while stuck in the middle of the track was what was at least the third semi-spoken/chanted middle eight of the album so far. However, if this is a story, then it is one of two halves. And we c
        an cut to the present, and report that after many, many more listens, theediscerning now likes every track on this album. A lot. By getting to know the tracks, lyrics and meanings in them, he has come realise the wanted edge to the music is actually there, and heavily repeated listening has not dulled a minute of this CD. On first listen he was feeling more amenable to it on hearing track seven anyway. I Get Cravings was the best song that was new to him, with a stronger shuffle rhythm, and the edge back in the lyrics and treatment. The more upbeat mood and tempo was welcome too, and the addition of sitars, tablas et al to the Western music template was, as normal, very welcome. Of a similar standard, and with equally eastern/Arabic backing, track eight is practically the album?s title track. While it itself is called Splitting Atoms, the major chorus line is ?Learning from Falling?, and theediscerning was singing along to this on the first listen before the song had finished. The vocals were on a par with the best output of Pink, which on later reflection track four was emulating similarly. Never?s Such a Long Time is a member of that small genre of pop songs, those sung in tribute to the dead Ian Dury. It seems a little awkward at first, but give it time and it get its hooks into you. It would serve as a perfect farewell hymn to any person one would deign to call ?legend?. Fans of Minnie Ripperton will recognise The Woman Who, as the entire backing is that of Les Fleurs, rerecorded, with the only addition a rompingly rhythmic middle portion. This track and the one after, Perfect Girl, prove how female-orientated this CD is, as both give different sides to the state of womanhood. We can admit here the subject that troubled theediscerning on first hearing it as a pop song on track four, Never Enough, is that of a woman finally seeing the flaws in her own heart-breaking love for an alcoholic husband, while this pa
        ir offers first a great song of empowerment and growth ?from girl-who-tries, misconstrued, shifting to woman-wise, so long, so long overdue? ~ and the second with the character in the song owning up to the failure of the ridiculous expectations of being ?a perfect girl?. This is done completely in the style of a Prince ballad, which is not unwelcome. This is not to pretend the first listen of this CD was all fine and dandy after the Eastern pair in the middle. It seemed rather daft for someone deigning to be a modern pop diva to take a semi-instrumental song as a cover version. But Lamya?s version of Nick Drake?s Pink Moon is very good, with original global instrumentation, for one. Also, the need of a ?single version? of Black Mona Lisa seemed unnecessary, but on later comparison the difference was evident, as this is a much more poppy, swingbeat-ish version. The album closes with an ?extra track? (extra presumably meaning there was no room left in the inlay for the lyrics), Bed I Never Made, which has a by-now familiar female bias, and with the most electronic backing yet, in a nearly dance music style. While trying to sound exotic (being half sung in some foreign tongue partly helps there) it also tends to safe radio fodder, but on the whole, so does the whole album, and there turns out to be nothing wrong with that. Theediscerning has seen no press for this album, which was allegedly out late September 2003. The early reviews on Amazon provide more information about the person behind the songs, and the person behind her, and proclaim this as RnB. But rest assured, this most certainly is not that most horrid of genres. If anything, this album is the best pure pop album of 2003. Just as Elvis and all those early rock and rollers were taking some refined mood of music and getting it on the radio, so Lamya succeeds in providing edgy, slightly odd at times music with a totally poppy edge. Given rotation on any radi
        o station, most of these tracks would be most welcome rattling around your head for days. And this brings us to the reason for theediscerning avoiding track one, Empires, while sampling the album for the first time. This is because he was, and still is, a huge fan of it, and felt its familiarity would unbalance the album as a whole. He first came across Lamya because of it, as a chance 50p buy mostly because of the dance remixes (by Sander Kleinberg and Bent), and got to love the track. It is a perfectly rousing song, with very unusual styling; and when theediscerning says it sounds like a more poppy version of Bjork?s Human Behaviour, he says it fully knowing the same chap produced both. And now, it is just as if all tracks on this CD have been heard an equal number of times, and Empires is perfectly at home with its peers. The advice from theediscerning is to ignore any categorisation for this album you may see. You should also ignore any thoughts of this being too feminist, for while it would be a good set to play to impress a female with your feminine side, it is balanced on the whole towards entertainment rather than politics, a job it does perfectly well. It may take more than a couple of listens to insinuate itself in your mind, but having done that it will have a tendency to stay stuck in your CD player. It will provide you with hours of pop music ~ pop not in the current manufactured sense, but in the Pink-styled, individual yet welcoming sense. While just out here, theediscerning writes this review, as he said earlier, after months of listening to the album several times each week. He wasn?t aware his Empires single would be a future collectible, nor that he was privileged to get Learning From Falling so early. But now that it is widely available, he would really encourage everyone to pick up a copy. By widely available, he means that copious copies of the import are flooding amazon?s marketplace
        at ridiculous prices. Also, the UK version misses the second Black Mona Lisa. Still, whoever you buy either format from, theediscerning thinks you would soon join him in giving this CD five stars. Great stuff.

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