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Lafawndah’s The Fifth Season – Album Review

Credit: Marguerite Humeau

Lafawndah returns with her new album, The Fifth Season, emulating hymns, classical music, and jazz. Her voice is crisp, cutting through the opaque and enticing instrumentation.  With an emphasis on lone brass instruments, and disparate percussion, the music takes on a hazy veil, leaving the listener wandering through a seemingly foreign landscape. Listening to this album, the depth of Lafawndah’s sharp vocals and hazy composition entices the listener to explore with curiosity.

She begins with “Old Prayer,” interpreting Lili Boulanger’s composition “Old Buddhist Prayer,” a Romantic piece dating back to 1914.  Lafawndah’s sole voice replaces the drama of her predecessor’s chorus, becoming an eerie entrance to the progress of the album. Singing the same French lyrics as the 1914 composition: “Let all those beings which exist/Without enemies, without obstacles, overcoming their grief/And attaining happiness, be able to move freely/Each in the path destined for them.” She raises the curtain with a momentous opening chorus. The instrumentals of this song are as desolate as her voice, starting with an almost subterranean-sounding percussion accompaniment.  Slowly, as her vocals rise, the deep sounds of tubas and trombones follow the underground sense of rhythm, reveling in a quiet, yet impactful sense.  Starting with this conversation with history, she adds a mythical effect to her narrative.

Don’t Despair,” Lafawndah’s interpretation of Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s song of the same name, flows seamlessly from “Old Prayer.” Equally as mysterious, she follows a low-pitched tuba, as though a somber procession were to take place.  While Glenn-Copeland’s song is framed by harmonicas, basses, and fast drums, Lafawndah’s rendition is almost devoid of the original speedy aura. Like a distant hymn, Lafawndah provides only her voice and the currents of a tuba to signify a sense of a peripheral passage of movement. 

Lafawndah’s feature single, “You, at the End,” is tantalizing, immediately drawing the listener in with jazz-influenced brass.  Repeating the poetry of Kae Tempest, she sings of femininity and posture, building a world of mystery and foreignty.  Emphasizing this concept of birth, the listener is brought back to the amorphous Marguerite Humeau album art, Venus of Frasassi, a contemporary 3D-printed mold rendering of a prehistoric Venus figurine: “Born more brawn than most/Born warm/Born close to ghost/Born storm/Born old/Grew young/You could tell she wasn’t from/The same place as the rest of us.”  The seduction of the sole brass highlights Lafawndah’s vocal range, simultaneously strong in conviction and delicate in storytelling.  The magnitude of her voice hones in on a lyrical focal point of the album: “Born to hold the world under her tongue.”

Lafawndah adds an eight minute interlude, “The Stillness,” highlighting her elaborate ability to build enigmatic worlds.  The song becomes a conversation between the depth of the horns and sounds of rain, materials slipping against each other, and ripples of wasp-like sounds.  Framed by a fast xylophone, the sound of brass instruments resemble that of an unknown animal or force of nature, left to the listener’s imagination.  It is a mesmerizing song, exploring the versatility of percussion in momentum and movement.  The slow–and almost “vocal”–draw of the tuba and trombone build a slow drive, and seemingly drive an unspoken narrative as a musical guide. There is an elemental sense of attachment to change, finding the sounds of a millisecond turned to ash, moving to an amorphous mass of precarity. 

She finishes her album with “Le Malentendu,” featuring Lala &ce.  Translating to “the misunderstanding,” the song is airy, yet displays Lafawndah’s strong instrumentation and vocality.  The song seems suspended in time, volatile in composition.  The weightlessness of both Lafawndah and Lala &ce’s voices are countered with increasingly opaque layers of instrumentation.  The dreamy keyboard and faint sounds of flowing water surge into an imposing boldness of brass and percussion.  Keeping their listeners on their toes, the music seamlessly and endlessly morphes, constantly shifting from a light haunting to a heavy presence. Finishing off her album, Lafawndah reinstates her magnetism as both a siren and a world-builder by leaving the listener in a trance.

The Fifth Season, in a way, seems otherworldly. Yet, Lafawndah builds an intimate temple of her music.  Despite her relatively minimal instrumentation, primarily consisting of a trombone, tuba, keyboard, she tells a story of dramatic tenderness. She undoubtedly acknowledges her influences, including Lili Boulanger and Beverly Glenn-Copeland (both artists with distinctive otherworldly styles and signatures).  Leaving the listener in a trance, she seduces them into a contemplation of history and intimacy.  Though heavily imbued in an aesthetically historical resin, Lafawndah’s cinematically enticing music drives her listeners to a standpoint for the future, emphasizing a simultaneously microscopic and colossal interpretation of self.

Rating: 8.5/10

Article By: Elizabeth Leung