Mostly recorded in one single take and at the home of her long time music companion jazz multi-instrumentalist Pascal Paulus, the fourth album from Belgian flautist and vocalist Melanie De Biasio is purposely raw, minimalistic, unembellished and soothing. Humility is a key word that really sums up the production method, aural vibe, lyrics and floristic symbolism of the album’s title Lilies.
For starters, there’s a beautifully humble line at the album’s opener “Your Freedom Is The End Of Me” which really encapsulates De Biasio’s openly vulnerable personality. About a devastating relationship break-up, she confesses: “No sleep, can’t eat. I’m skin and bones. I feel the joints, please come home. It’s getting late“.
Lilies is a welcome antithetic breather from loud, over-produced tunes with arrogant pretentious lyrics (with songwriters pretending they have a bulletproof heart that can’t get hurt) that blast daily out of car windows.
Speaking of breathing, one of the highlights of Lilies is De Biasio’s decision to unapologetically capture all of her vocal attributes however trivial they are. They include each gasp of air, each sigh and each lostness of breath. Something very noticeable on “Gold Junkies” and “And My Heart Goes On”.
Furthermore, the Belgian does something particularly unusual in “All My Words”, she enunciates the end of words with precision by emphasising the final t’s in “fault” and “trust”. This means that as well as enjoying her vocals, one can also imagine the anatomical mechanics that make up the sound; from the tip of the tongue, to the vocal chords, to the oxygen trailing through her lungs.
Her delivery isn’t too startling and surprising though because it fits in with her trademark seductive jazzy style, especially when she whispers and talk-sings like a combination of Roísín Murphy and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
There is also something humble about the musical space that surrounds Melanie De Biasio on Lilies. The space is airy and empty like she’s reclusively homed inside a hollow cave. The instrumental compositions are made up of very light touches of piano and paper-thin drum cymbals and in one case on “And My Heart Goes On”, her accompaniment is world music-associated aboriginal flute.
At it’s most basic is “Sitting In The Stairwell”. The Belgian sings with a foggy American tone, a kin to Nina Simone at the beginning of her classic “Feeling Good” and with just finger-clicking as its pulse, “Sitting In The Stairwell” is also reminiscent of Michael Kiwanuka’s more recent track “I’m a Black Man In A White World”.
Due to it being evocative of a person humming a folk song to themselves whilst sitting on an outside porch swing, it’s one of many tracks that make Melanie De Biasio seem like a person who’s comfortable being by themselves.
Its lack of bass and rhythm makes it very hard to dance to, and it has a tendency to become soporific at times. Furthermore, like any sophisticated album with the pace of dinner-jazz, the music would disappear with the air amongst a talkative crowd. Yet that’s not the point of the album, it is humble headphone music, and those already familiar with Melanie Di Biasio’s work know what to expect.
Melanie De Biasio’s Lilies album is out now via Le Label/PIAS, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Matt Hobbs