Light in the Attic pull through once again with a dazzling record celebrating the enriching and moving works that reside within the discography of musician, poet and author Leslie Winer, with the tracks featured speaking significant volumes of the artist and the vision she perpetuated.
Certain instruments do a great job at simply floating along through the notions, finding a way to remain compelling throughout a composition or series of compositions, and more often than not its the voice that shines through in this regard. Throughout music's history, vocals have been utilised in numerous ways, often to convey a message or feeling through the words being said, be it either happy, sad, political, socially reflective, and pretty much everything inbetween, with the listener always picking up on the words being said and either connecting with them on a personal or emotional frequency. Sometimes though, the words act as a binding agent, acting not just as a obvious top layer but instead weaving and dipping between the layers, providing a narrative that joins the dots in finding the sweet spot between all manner of instrumental elements going on, and in this way the listener latches themselves onto the journey which the words take us. A sequence that is part human and part narrative, part personal and part conceptual, the words flow out of the performer with not just meaning but impeccable placement, conveying to us a duality of mood and tone that remains hard to beat in regards to feeling, as it operates on two levels in providing us with an experience that leaves a lasting impression. Genres such as Hip Hop offer these kinds of experiences, where the messages behind the music come right to the fore but its message is paired impeccably with the technical application of the voice, with listeners able to appreciate both levels with equal applause, and this is why the genre is held in such high regard amongst music lovers. Hip Hip remains not only the only genre to utilise this technique, with plenty of other genres finding space to accommodate the spoken word or poetry orientated lyrics, and artists who have operated within these realms have cropped up all over in the past and indeed the present, with their aim of looking to portray a context or experience never failing to be immerse or meaningful. Some would stick to a certain kind of backing track, one which they felt would amplify their message to its utmost, but there are some who clearly spent a significant amount of time looking for ways to transpose their message into all manner of styles and genres, and the results remain there to be seen by all. The voice in this regard becomes a tool to hang everything together, a sinuous element of enrichment that flows between the drums, guitar, keys, bass and any other layer that gets thrown into the mix, acting as a counter balance between the structures so that we continue to flow onwards and upwards into some very special places indeed. Floating and breathing between the strata, it uplifts as much as it tantalises, it creates as much as it ends, all the while making sure that we get the most complete of experiences, where the vocals match the instrumentals in intensity, flow and imagination, and to combine those two sequences so effortlessly is a real skill indeed. It often only comes from those with a rare appreciation for the two, where the complete package presents itself at the beginning before being filled up with rhythm and words, weaving and dipping between the styles with the utmost of certainties but with plenty of emphasis placed on the direction of momentum and feel. This helps to make each track on a record feel alive and relevant, a chapter within a wider story that has us hanging on the edge of our seat, forever anticipating the next phase of the narrative to envelop us within its warm and daring embrace.
One artist who certainly explored every facet of possibility when it came to the voice was poet, writer and musician Leslie Winer, who has conjured up some fascinating and jaw droppingly brilliant moments within her illustrious career as a recording artist, along with leading a quite extraordinary life. Born and raised in Weston, Massachusetts, Winer was raised by her adoptive grandmother before leaving the town behind to move to New York to study at the School of Visual Arts, where to help pay for materials she would assist her neighbour, Stuart Meyer, write porn novels. It was via Meyer that Winer's love of literature would reach new heights, introducing her to not only Beat novels but to the movement's titans, William S.Burroughs and Herbert Huncke, whom Winer is now the co-editor and co-executive of his estate. Burroughs in particular would be an enormous influence on Winer, referring to him as a grandfather figure in her life. Whilst in New York, Winer started a modelling career, and is often referred to as the first androgynous model, but she soon grew weary of the industry, and ended up in London, living with film maker John Maybury, and it was here where she met ex-Adam and the Ants bassist Kevin Mooney. Mooney had recently formed a band called Max, and Winer was recruited to provide lyrics and visual direction, with the groups first single 'Little Ghost' arriving in 1987, the song being a tribute to Maybury's partner Trojan, who died of an overdose aged just 21. The single would also feature Winer's debut vocal performance on the track '337.5537's Little Ghost', with her voice toeing a wonderful solid line between bombastic guitar and percussion, her words acting as a cornerstone to all the explosive energy happening around it. Whilst working on the track 'Just Call Me Joe', which the pair wrote for Sinead O'Connor, Winer was inspired by producer Trevor Horn's approach in the studio, with the process giving her renewed confidence to branch out and make her own music. The result of this new endeavour, a white label entitled 'Kind of Easy', was released in 1989-90, and was the first time Winer had made something in her own musical image, with the track featuring on the seminal album 'Witch', which didn't see the light of day until at least 1993. The record, which featured Maybury, Jah Wobble, Mooney, Matthew Ashman and many others and was released under the © motif , is widely considered a watershed moment within Trip Hop, with a myriad of Jazz laden broken beats converging with sublime melodic layers and bass heavy undertones, with Winer's voice located right at the heart of it all, keeping pace and direction firmly fixated on all sides of the scope being presented. Its a record that showcases Winer's incredible vision for her music, with each track shining through both on an individual layer and as part of a collective vision, seemingly unhinged from convention and more so focused on moving the listener to all manner of narrative laden ecstasies. Despite this, Winer, forever feeling the need to move on to new and exciting things, had left for Miami in 91', and it was here where she would record two further records, 'Three Bags Full' and 'Spider', both of which were released as extremely limited cassette releases and would eventually be made available by Winer digitally in 2013, along with two contemporary releases in 2010's '& That Dead Horse' and 2015's '1', which was recorded with Swedish composer Carl Michael Von Hausswolff. It's hard to quantify Winer's music into any singular genre, instead its probably easier to describe her style as one where her vocals bring everything together into a musical sphere that is part leftfield rhythmic patterns, part dub laden undertones, part droney-ambient skylines, and part poetry in motion, all of which combine effortlessly to create musical experiences like no other. Her lyrics focus much on feminism and the meaning behind the movement, creating spaces that address your own feelings and views head on, with Winer often reusing lyrics throughout her various releases, with Winer wanting to understand the sentences she uses and 'live her way into understanding it'. This provides her discography with an additional layer of conceptual connectivity, knitting together her music with further thoughts and musings that help to embed the listener further into her world. Throughout it all, Winer speaks directly to the listener, whispering into our ears all manner of insightful anecdotes that help us to see her vision just that little bit clearer, all the while the most incredible of backing tracks plays out in the backdrop, with these melodies and rhythms doing much to prop up Winer's breathtaking delivery. Meandering through all the styles you could think of, her music dazzles from every single angle you look at it, from the gorgeous rhythms through to the lone horn sweeps, it all works and operates together with a flexible totality, with the vocals always keeping the ship steady through the endless sea of possibility.
“The beat has to be right — or just the right amount of wrong — to be interesting,”
And now we arrive at a new anthology celebrating her music career, 'When I Hit You - You'll Feel It', which lands on the ever impressive Light In The Attic Records. Like cutting a high line through the ages, this record really helps the listener to get a full grasp over the extents of Winer's vision of music, with her wide reaching style shown on a beautiful scale here, covering a period from 1993 right up until 2018. Its a reflection of the influences, sounds and experiences that Winer came into contact with over the years, with Jazz fulled grooves nestled alongside Dub inspired burners and break infused compositions, with plenty of variations along the way to really keep you locked into the movements. The record also showcases the plethora of artists that Winer collaborated with over the years, from the formative years working with ex members of Adam and the Ants, through to Jah Wobble, Jon Hassell, Helen Terry, Karl Bonnie and many more, with this spread very much reflective of her far reaching vision and willingness to collaborate. Its a journey through the passages of time, back to audial spaces that still pack a punch to this day, as we read and experience an audial narrative that remains so very strong, all due to a vision for music that persists on so many levels. On that note, lets dive right into this incredible collection of tracks....
'When I Was Wait Whitman' arrives first, and this one begins with a couple of phone call voice samples to get us going. These two sequences help to set the tone of things to come, and the drums land suddenly after the words have ebbed away, their presence giving you a jolt as they swing along with a passionate intensity as their feel spreads across the whole pan. Winer's voice joins soon after, residing just above the percussion with plenty of buzz added to her words, which helps to bridge the divide between her words and the drums, and before long the two lines are added to with deep expressive bass chords and light key notes. The two melodic elements contrast well with one another, helping to maintain the dynamics that have persisted since the opening moments, with the keys moved away at the right times to draw focus back to the original relationship of Winer's vocals and the drums. This then leads into a breakdown, where the drums slide away to provide some room to the keys, which layer then layer some more to really ensnare us within the layers, as we push through into one final passage of the full ensemble. What an opener. 'N1 Ear' comes up next, and this one features the drums and vocals immediately. The percussion moves onwards with a interesting duality, as the core rhythm stands still but a sliding element moves across the pan, its continuous feel contrasting to the broken up feel of the main drumming sample, all the while a dubby bass line comes into the mix to really carry us away. Winer's voice remains a somewhat peripheral figure, embedding itself within the layers as a mingling element, but this all changes dramatically as everything strips away save for the bass line and her vocals, and this is when the message of the song comes through so strong. Winer talks of all the faults that are immediately placed on women by society, along with the injustices that occur on a regular basis towards women, and its profoundly impactful, with the backing instrumentals signally the movement back into the fullness that existed at the start of the track, as her voice slides back into being an instrument of sorts, gliding and grooving through the rhythms to great effect. 'Tree' comes next, and this one begins with the melodies to get us going. The original sequence is swallowed up by the drums and sampled vocal elements, as Winer's voice whispers across the top of the mid range frequencies, speaking to us as if its a radio show, channelling an energy through the headphones and right into our minds, with the main drum line coming into view soon after. The violins add purpose and momentum, as guitar elements add depth and feel to the momentum, with the track then moving between differing levels of density and rhythmic expression, winding down a road that feels magical, enchanting and down right beautiful. Superb stuff.
Up next comes 'Personals', and this one starts off with the looping vocals to get us going. The lines 'of women seeking men, of men seeking women, of men seeking men, of women seeking women' ring out through the introduction, as looping melodic elements cut through from underneath, and this is when the drums come sliding into view. The groove is wonderfully dense, hitting all the right notes of the pulsating vocal application, with Winer's voice coming into view soon after to bring the conversation out of the telephone and into the personal realm. Horns are thrown into the choruses to provide additional momentum, with the verses focusing more on Winer's vocal delivery, with eerie synths flickering within the distance to great effect. 'Dream 1' is up next, and this one begins in very soft territories indeed. Winer's voice gently serenades the listener atop a light drumming pattern, and after this sequence repeats a couple of times we descend into the dubbbb, with the bass line chiming along within the drumming sequence as the beautiful key orientated layers cascade across the spectrum of sound. Winer's voice is suitably drenched in reverb, its tone melting into the backdrop both in terms of volume and audial frequency, as we saunter through the docile tones with all the enthusiasm in the world, eager and willing to see the world through the eyes of this wondrous soundtrack. 'Dunderhead' comes next, and this one starts off with the guitar to get us going. Winer comes into view almost immediately, her voice forced right to the top to provide immediate focus, with her words meandering along, matching the guitar and the emerging drums perfectly. A pause is provided in the narrative, but it returns soon after to keep us aligned fully to the progression, and like with much of Winer's work the music remains content to rely on the groove, as melodic sequences find spaces to change it up and help to push things forward. The guitar leaves us around the half way mark, and when it returns the melodies go into overdrive, with piano thrown in for good measure to create this sense of release, along with providing Winer's vocal delivery with yet another compelling backdrop. 'The Boy Who Used 2 Whistle', and this one starts with a vocal sample to kick things off. Winer then begins a story about a boy who she met, and as the words flow the groove starts to formulate in the background, with the drums akin to broken beat but also channelling a P-Funk kind of feel, with a repeating bass line moving in and around the hats and snares with such meaning. Winer's voice moves between following the groove completely and winding up and down over various frequencies, a movement between a story being told and a more instrument orientated way of doing things. The singing chant that comes in adds further flavour, as we continue to loose ourselves in the drums, and we are thrown a curveball when the repeating bass notes come into view, their presence and placement creating a memorable reminder of Winer's ability to understand just the right moment when to build something into a track that catches you off guard, but in the best way possible. Top notch.
'Hold On Postcards' comes next, and this one transports you right to a lounge somewhere, overlooking a vista somewhere beautiful. Winer describes the scenes and experiences around her, telling whoever the postcard is addressed to about all the things she has been up to, as a piano line descends into the backdrop, as if it is seeping into the frame from the room in which this message is being written. Backing vocals add depth to proceedings, merging with the piano line and droning synth layer that slides into view soon after, as Winer keeps on mentioning her sunburn and how much she has relaxed, as we close our eyes and begin to picture ourselves sitting beside her, smoking a cigarette and drinking a coffee. Pastel colours and warm blues embrace us from all around, with the track moving into more energetic territories around the half way mark, as if to inform us that the lazy afternoon has ended and the evening festivities have begun. The track peaks soon after, before reducing itself to Winer's voice, as she whispers about the Balaerics, as the door closes behind us. Brilliant stuff. 'He Was' comes next, and this one begins with 'could you turn the lights out, please?'. This line repeats a couple of times over before we slide into a swinging dub focused rhythm, as lush vocals begin to simmer over the top, with Winer arriving into the mix soon after to shift the focus onto the next phase. Her voice slides along as elegantly and as softly as ever, speaking directly through the headphones and right into our ears, painting a picture of characters and contexts which we begin to piece together as time passes. The chorus comes back soon after, but following its second salvo we see some Reggae style piano chords chime along to the rhythm, which helps to elevate the feeling to new heights, as our heads nod along to the groove, forever immersing ourselves deeper and deeper into the sound. Powerful stuff. Up next comes 'Roundup Ready', and this one starts off with the quick fire vocal sample to get things going. The drums then arrive on the scene, providing this incredible skip to the groove, which is then joined by the guitar and bass line which really gives the track a kick up the arse, as Winer floats above, her words echoing the groove with a real sense of effortlessness. Commenting on bits and pieces from here and there, the instrumentals drop in and out to provide focus to certain passages, which helps to keep the listener very much on board to all that comes their way. The track has such a groove to, with plenty of looping elements keeping their place throughout, and the feel is simply magical.
'Skin' comes up next, and this one gets right into things immediately. The drums are slow and sombre, distant almost with their placement set deep within the pan, as Winer rises to join the groove right from the off, as acoustic guitar begins to waft in from the left before spreading out across the spectrum that persists underneath. The words 'I ain't afraid of your skin' really ring true, in fact the whole chorus works so very effectively, and the transition that greets us after it finishes is delicious to the ears, with Winer providing further commentary within the choruses that follow afterwards. The track just continues onwards and upwards, floating between groove and spoken word, and by this point we are totally on board. 'Box' comes next, and this one hums along very nicely indeed. The guitar chimes along atop a drum break that is full of fills, with organ chords cutting through the spaces that get left behind, as Winer continues to mesmerise and entice up above the groove, her voice floating along with grace, meaning and passion. The narrative that flows our way weaves its way around our heads, embracing us with its deviations, ebbs and meanders, with the climax coming around the 3 minute mark, with the organ rising from its original rhythmic placement to fill up the space right in front of us. Wonderful stuff. Up next comes 'This Blank Action', and this cut starts off immediately in different tonal territories. 'Congratulations on being a big fucking deal' kicks things off, and before long we are greeted by a powerful bass line and skipping electro style beat, as Winer's voice sits just above the frequency generated by the bass notes, riding the crest of a big wave that keeps washing over us with a flair and invigorating energy. The first line gets repeated at just the right moments, as deep cascading synth pads move around in the backdrop, picking up on all the space left in the distance, with the track transitioning once more into this kind of neo-rave space, with laser like chords shifting across the pan to great effect. The track takes some dips in energy to keep the momentum going, as the drums kick back into life to give us one final surge of energy.
'Battle Porn' comes next, and this one sees the energy immediately shift from one side to the next. The drums that greet us at the start move between a straight up Breakbeat to a jungle break, with the two vibing off one another in the initial few sequences before joining forces to get that double time action working to a T. Winer emerges during the breakdown, her voice repeating the name of the track, and as the beat comes back in the rhythmic feel of the words begin to make sense, coming in like a pulsating key line or chordal blemish, and its a stripped back feel that you just stand back and appreciate. The drums are given some time to breath, as a light bass line sweeps through the bottom ends to great effect, with Winer coming back soon after to keep the narrative firmly in the mindset. 'Woodshedded' comes in next, and this one begins with the rumbling bass notes and distant melodic line to get us going. The two lines work around one another very effectively, interacting and mingling between the varying frequencies that emerge from both, and before long they are joined by the very effective drums and of course Winer's voice, which remains as potent as ever. The track displays a feverish energy, as if its about to explode, but retains this power to keep us locked into the next segment, our hearts eager to understand what might flow into the frame next, and rather than a step up we are greeted with a breakdown, followed by more elements getting thrown into the mix which add enormously to the track's dynamism. To wrap things up on this incredible collection of tunes, we have 'Fragment 2', and this one takes the energy right down to the sunlit skies, the breeze in the trees, the coolness of the early evening. The key sequence is utterly sublime, with their tone and placement immediately placing us in a calming place, as Winer's voice utters descriptions that keep up this illusion of somewhere, some place in time, with whoever we find ourselves with. Its a fitting end to a record that celebrates a true innovator, a musician who was capable of bottling all kinds of magic that was found within music during the 80s and early 90s and made it her own, and after leaving this experience you are left with so many moments to savour, and these moments will keep you coming back for more, time and time again.
Looking back over a musician's work can be a massive task, such is the many transformations that were undertook, along with the passing of time and how visions would shift and change. For some though, their vision seemed endless, capable to incorporating so many differing kinds of styles and vibes that even though the feel of tracks and records might change, it was all tethered together by a creative will that seemed so elastic and capable of enveloping everything. Leslie Winer's work gives over to us a lot of things, the first of course being the application of her voice and the words that she spoke, with this sequence always being found in just the right space within tracks, either whispering softly about feelings and contexts, or loudly proclaiming about rights, society and issues. Her voice was always accompanied by the second major feature, the backing instrumentals, and its so very hard to simply place the backing tracks within one kind of genre, as Winer would effortlessly pair differing sequences together from a plethora of genres to make a sound that was, well, her own. You can certainly see the DNA of what became Trip Hop in her early works, but her later pieces would still have this wonderful relationship between her voice and the instrumentals placed right at the front for all to see, and its a duality that has kept people listening for all these years. Dynamic, groovy, meandering and at all times indefinitely interesting, Leslie Winer certainly found a space for herself within the musical sphere, and its a world that is presented so beautifully within this compilation. Give it a go, you never know where you might end up.
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