Yesterday I crashed my bike. A kid skateboarding with headphones swerved in front of me. Hooked on a railroad track, I flipped and hit my head, destroying my glasses and shredding my hand. It was kind of terrible.
I woke today with my entire body aching, needing something gentle on the ears to go with my pain pills and coffee. I remembered a friend telling me that Annabel (lee) sounded “like a cross between trip-hop, smokey old-time jazz/Billie Holiday, and a bit of Matana Roberts.” He was right on the money. Thanks to Bandcamp, you can listen for yourself; the entire album is streaming below.
Because I was an idiot without a helmet on, I’m now writing as a measure to track my faculties, in addition to the fact that I am quickly falling in love with this music.
Listening as the coffee and pills took effect, I dreamed of spaces in imaginary David Lynch films, lost in smoke and obfuscation, sensual and menacing all at once. The sound is quietly stunning, with a fresh, spaced out atmosphere belying its traditional jazz setup. The closest analog that comes to mind, in terms of production, is the self-titled Portishead album, with its thumping trip-hop structures obscured by shadows and crackling dust.
The instrumentation here billows from street level guitar minimalism to multi-tracked orchestral clouds, wrapped in a cocoon of timeless drift. The album connects a specific through-line from Billie’s 1958 recording You Don’t Know What Love Is to the mystic folk of Robbie Basho on 1978’s Visions of the Country to, indeed, the raw modern jazz poetry of Matana Roberts. If you’re remotely interested in any of these, you owe it to yourself to hear By The Sea… And Other Solitary Places.
Released into the corpulent frenzy of Record Store Day 2015, the album was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem about untimely death. As the Ninja Tune site puts it: Annabel (lee) muses on the refrain “in a kingdom by the sea…” as she whispers from beneath the currents, “I shall never leave you”.
Information is scarce at the moment, but it seems the project is a duo: longtime New York jazz singer Annabel (lee) and Richard E, an English dance producer. Combining vocal prowess and a lifetime love of poetry, Annabel perfectly complements her partner’s William Blake-style Romantic leanings, breathing dark life into these delicately weird arrangements.
While I’m still incapacitated, the surreal imagery and hauntingly gorgeous tones have made for a day rich in inspiration and thought. This is the kind of album that I’ll be repeating for weeks, only to rediscover every few months in a fresh binge. It’s a new facet of the sounds I wish to live inside.
Since it’s important to me, I’ll mention that the music of early David Lynch is an obvious cosmic cousin to this sound. Listening again, I think of nothing so much as Julee Cruise singing in the Road House outside Twin Peaks, and the lost soundtrack of the Fire Walk With Me band, Fox Bat Strategy. They all share a real sense of spiritual drama, emerging from nighttime earthen blues under a bygone twentieth century glow.
I’d like to leave you with a final reminder to wear your helmet while biking. I was stupid and overconfident from cycling the same route to work every day, letting my helmet collect dust in the closet. It’s now hanging on my front door, waiting for the moment I’m ready to get back on the road. Injuring your head is scary for a reason. Keep it safe.
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If you like what you hear, you can buy the album directly from the Annabel (lee) Bandcamp page.