- A singular debut album, originally released on Rephlex in 1998, gets its first reissue.
- There's a reason Leila Arab was afforded her own sub-section in last year's Rephlex retrospective. When her debut album, Like Weather, came out on Grant Wilson-Claridge and Richard D. James's label in 1998, she was surrounded by electronica boffins pursuing lopsided acid, refracted electro and cubist jungle down a wormhole of abstraction. But her LP of modernist soul with a noisy experimental edge wasn't trying to be weird, which is exactly why it sent shockwaves through a roster that seemed to revel in creating shockwaves. No one was expecting such a luxuriant listening experience, least of all Rephlex and its fans.
Arab's predilection for pop echoes her previous tenure as part of Björk's live band. If you watch footage from the Post tour closely, you can see her working the mixing desk with the fervour of a true dub head. But unlike the Icelander's glacial fantasies, Arab's take on pop was rooted in the soulful Black tradition and the multifarious funk of Prince. The vocalists on Like Weather were relative unknowns who happened to be in arm's reach, including her sister Roya Arab, but their strength of identity is essential to the album's impact.
A bittersweet magic and curious grit lurks in Luca Santucci's arresting turn on album opener "Something," a heavy-hearted paean to escapism and self-medication. Santucci feels intimately entwined with Arab: he also pops up on the rare promo-only 12-inch Heaven On Their Minds (a cover of a track from Jesus Christ Superstar) and voices standout tracks on subsequent albums Courtesy Of Choice and Blood Looms And Blooms. It's a mystery he hasn't released more. (Graham Massey, via the 808 State message board, suggests that Santucci recorded an album at Plaid's studio, which to date remains tantalisingly unreleased.)
But even before Santucci enters the mix, we hear the first bold strikes of Arab's forceful identity. Artfully dubbed feedback punctuates the opening seconds of "Something." The track is only 90 seconds long and yet there's already a small universe to explore. Santucci also appears on "Don't Fall Asleep," which broke Leila to many casual electro nerds when it was included on seminal Rephlex compilation The Braindance Coincidence in 2001. I always assumed the distorted, off-key vocal, which melts sloppily over the squashed funk of the rhythm section, belonged to Arab, years before I understood more about her work and lost myself in Like Weather.
One minute Like Weather is a delicate and beautiful electronic reverie, the next it's a grungy slab of groove. Polarised qualities often intertwine, as on "Blue Grace," where the drunken bassline underpins shimmering top lines and Roya Arab's dynamic howl. Leila Arab plasters great walls of sound around her sister's voice. The focus seems the expression of joyful noise. Instrumental cut "Space, Love" follows with a tussle between lush synth orchestration and angular rhythmic abstraction. The exuberant, almost-crossover hooks of "Won't You Be My Baby, Baby" sits in between plaintive piano and scratchy experimentation.
Nods to club music are splattered across Like Weather—from the sunken subs and drums of "Melodicore" to the disheveled breakbeat rattling through "So Low Amen"—but there's such a wilful destruction of the original sounds that any references feel eons away from the cultures they were drawn from. You can also catch a whiff of '90s trip-hop and its smouldering blunt ends on the flanging drums of "Misunderstood" and "Untitled." Donna Paul's angelic voice on the former might have lent it mass appeal, were it not for the delicious threads of moodiness Arab slides in between the more easily digested elements.
Arab's arc since Like Weather has been as singular as her debut. Her follow-up album, Courtesy Of Choice, was a tangled and provocative take on pop, soul and experimental electronics. Eight years later, Blood Looms And Blooms cast a gothic shade over her noisy vocal songs and evocative sound pieces, before U&I, released in 2012, moved more purposefully towards a purely synthetic sound that shrugged off some of the crusty sample craft of her earlier work. Following Arab, then, has never been dull. There's a certain impulsive magic about the unlikely jigsaw puzzle of Like Weather that could never be repeated, like a freak meteorological phenomenon that leaves its mark on the landscape long after it has blown through.
02. Don't Fall Asleep
03. Underwaters (One For Keni)
05. Blue Grace
06. Space, Love
09. So Low... Amen
11. Piano String
12. Won't You Be My Baby, Baby