The contemporary folk (or anti-folk) scene has produced some artists that have garnered some serious attention over the last decade: Joanna Newsom, Bon Iver, Regina Spektor, Fleet Foxes, Martha Wainwright, Devendra Banhart, Bright Eyes, Sufjan Stevens, Jose Gonzales, M. Ward, Damien Rice, Iron and Wine, the list is long and deservedly celebrated. They’re all talented songwriters, no doubt about it. One name I’d submit for future inclusion in that esteemed list is Lhasa de Sela. Over the course of twelve years, American-born/ Mexican-raised/ Montreal-based singer-songwriter Lhasa de Sela released three quietly sparkling albums of brooding balladry that oscillate between atmospheric folk/ blues/ country/ with flights of French chanson and slow lava-like tango. The beauty of these albums doesn’t hide itself in elliptical shades, it seems nakedly open to immediate appreciation via the most basic components: the voice, the melody, the mood, the words, the instrumentation. You can’t fail to miss the effect upon a first listen. There is a development over the three albums; incremental shifts in presentation and style, exploring the capacities of each influence as if trying to find the heart-breaking core that would ferry the song’s soul best. And each of these stages is worth experiencing. (It’s like hearing Nina Simone go from “I Put a Spell On You” to “Ne Me Quitte Pas”.) She never seemed to obtain the media blitz and hype of her contemporaries (which is a good thing, in a way, no chance of overexposure), it was more a word of mouth thing…but on New Years Day 2010, Lhasa de Sela lost her battle with breast cancer, at the age of 37, and I’m (vainly) hoping that these small few hundred words will aid the process of slowly turning people on to her musical legacy, one sympathetic ear at a time. Her final album came out last year, simply titled: Lhasa, and like its two predecessors, it’s incredibly strong and accomplished. Every song. Brilliant. In the song “Rising”, when she sings: ‘I got caught in the storm…and carried away[…]that’s what happened to me’, it’s hard not to read it in an obvious way, especially when the chorus comes: ‘I was rising up…hitting the ground…and breaking’. But like all good lyrics, they transcend any one-dimensional readings and the personal joy comes from the abstraction and the ambiguity and the simple universality. As you listen, the words are yours. We all break, sooner or later. It’s just always sadder when it’s someone uniquely talented and well before their time.
~ DECOY SPOON