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June 29, 2013

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CD Review: Lisa/Liza has a dark side, you'll be glad to hear

By Rick Johnson

Lisa/Liza is the name of the one-woman recording/performing project of Portland singer-songwriter Liza Victoria. Her style is a fascinating blend of indie folk, psychedelia and dream pop, all recorded with a lo-fi, DIY aesthetic that gives the songs a haunting, ethereal feel.

Lisa/Liza’s last release, “Humble Noon,” was the audio equivalent of a warm and lazy summer day, full of wistful nostalgia and far-away memories. But on her new EP, “The Starbird Ceiling,” she conjures up something a little darker and a little sadder, but beautiful just the same in its own melancholic way.

Drenched in reverb, the opening track “Don’t Know Your Way” begins with the analog hiss of tape followed by a delicately plucked acoustic guitar. A low whistle and a half-hummed/half-sung vocal from Lisa/Liza bring an almost intangible sense of regret to the song. It’s not a feeling of overwhelming sadness per se, but more a sense of quiet resignation, the sort of feeling one gets at the end of a relationship when it becomes clear that it’s finally over.

As on past releases, the reverb and the placement of the vocals in the mix make it difficult to decipher much of the lyrics. But this actually works to the track’s advantage, and the snatches of lyrics that do manage to penetrate the murkiness allow listeners to paint their own pictures, and to superimpose their own situations and feelings onto the beautiful musical backdrop.

“Deep Mink” dials down the reverb significantly, and Lisa/Liza’s plaintive, quavering voice is as clear and bright as it’s ever been. Simple, repetitive riffs strummed on an electric guitar conjure the spirit of Syd Barrett circa his first two solo albums, lending a subtle sense of in-the-moment improvisation, a snapshot of a brief musical moment in time. A bit of studio chatter and a shy giggle from Lisa/Liza on “Lessons” come as a welcome respite from the heavy vibe, and the track also features a saw played by Penn Chan. If you’ve never heard a saw played as a musical interment, it sounds a bit like a poor man’s theremin. But whereas a theremin makes most things sound like a ’50s sci-fi B-movie, the saw has a more eerie tone, evoking memories of dark corners in tucked- away rural places. Its use requires a deft touch, and it is employed brilliantly by Chan and Lisa/Liza.

“Hope Alone” sees Lisa/Liza in her classic shoe-gazer folkie mode, complete with echoing, understated and oh-so-quiet vocals. The title track is more of a psychedelic affair, with tons of reverb and a terrific, swirling mix that’s just perfect for headphone listening. The EP concludes with the eight-minute-long “No Proof,” featuring the return of Chan’s saw, an electric guitar played by Lisa/Liza and softly brushed drums courtesy of Devin Ivy. It’s odd at first to hear Lisa/Liza with any sort of “band” accompaniment, but also intriguing. It would be fascinating to hear what she would do with a full ensemble. Next album, perhaps?

If you enjoyed Lisa/ Liza’s last release, “Humble Noon,” you’ll find plenty to like on “The Starbird Ceiling.” The gorgeous voice, the intimacy, the dream-like state of mind – all the trademark Lisa/Liza elements are still here.

But this time around, be ready for a darker journey, and be ready to work just a little bit harder to find your musical bliss. When all is said and done and the last note has faded out, you’ll be glad you made the effort.

Stream the album for free and download it for $4 at: lisalizas.bandcamp.com/  album/the-starbird-ceiling-ep

Rick Johnson is a freelance writer and radio host from Westbrook. He can be contacted at: rjohnson.rock@gmail.com





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