“The act of making this record has felt truly exotic for me by way of its minimalism,” says Liela Moss...
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“The act of making this record has felt truly exotic for me by way of its minimalism,” says Liela Moss of her debut solo album. Released via Bella Union, 'My Name Is Safe in Your Mouth' more than lives up to Moss’s promise of fresh, bold adventure.
Sonically spare yet sumptuous in its emotions, elemental power and expansive melodies, the record is a richly felt, vividly-realised trip into the interior from the Duke Spirit singer. A serene-to-stormy series of deep dream-pop meditations on devotion and selfhood, creativity and parenthood, it treats unknown territory not as something to fear but as a seed-bed of possibility.
+ LP on white vinyl, housed in printed inner sleeve.
As Liela puts it, “I was in my own modest studio, surrounded by deep rural Somerset, and building the album bit by bit over a year with just my producer and partner Toby Butler – with whom I co-wrote all the music. We worked to our own schedule and across all seasons. Staring out of the window singing, I would watch the changing natural phenomena around me and sing to the forms outside. My window-view outside was like an umbilical cord; I was receiving little messages from the nature beyond and the songs were growing inside the studio, transmitting back.”
That poetic exchange between exteriors and interiors assumes first focus on “Memories and Faces”, an exploration of devotion where Moss likens herself to an animal, a storm and a river over the spacious backing of a reverberant piano; throughout, every arrangement is impeccably, sensitively judged to give Moss’s lyrics maximum breathing room. Set to images of storms and mountains, the percussive “Subequal” maintains the intensity for a moody reverie on emotional rescue and resilience, the warm elasticity of Moss’s voice more than a match for its introspective verses and ecstatic, soaring refrain.
Multi-tracked voices and mellifluous synths create cushioning backdrops for “Into the Flesh”, an almost Kate Bush-like lullaby for someone (a child?) or something (a song?) coaxed into being; Moss’s emphasis on the word “softly” speaks quiet volumes about how these songs are nurtured into life. Meanwhile, “Above You, Around You” meditates on selfhood while all around is in flux, exploring, as Moss puts it, “What it could be to nurture, change and grow, and not be afraid of the unknown, but make friends with it.”
“I teased melody out from an abstract, day-dreaming space until I can honestly say I felt that I was attempting to sing Mother Nature into existence – making music as a devotional act at times. I enjoyed the simple pleasure of turning the sounds over and over in my mouth and nurturing them all until I felt some new life, some electricity.”
One desired result of that fearlessness is implied by the track “Wild as Fire”, which builds from an almost amniotic introduction to a sweeping declaration of commitment, where big screens are “made of stars” and hearts are “untameable… boundless”. On “Manipura”, Moss counsels on a need to preserve faith in yourself, to “swing on climbing stars” bravely; a metaphor, perhaps, for her own methodologies. “I revised my takes a lot during the writing process, playing with phrasing and altering the notes, just loving the liberation that comes when you practice non-attachment. Playing with something you like for a day, discarding it in the next, knowing the best is yet to come and not hanging on to what might have been.”
Or, as she sings, “And if you fall / You will fall into yourself whole.” “New Leaves” sets its exploration of restriction and release to dreamy guitars, while the piano chords of “Salutation” frame a beatific, devastating meditation on loss. As Moss explains of its lyric, “‘This is the heart of somebody I don’t even know’ is a response to thinking about a stillborn – technically a very late miscarriage. It was an unusual experience and I was fascinated at my own calm response to the medical interventions and quite startling things that the situation brought into our life and my body. It was strange and interesting, and ‘Salutation’ is the loving, artistic response.” (Last year, notably, Moss and Butler became parents.)
The lush chorales and pillowy synths of “Moon” and restorative devotional of “Hidden Sea” provide loving climaxes to an album that marks great leaps forward for one of alt-rock’s most magnetic voices. Over 14 years, Moss’s work with the Duke Spirit (not gone, just on pause) ranged from brawling riff-rock to the more exploratory Sky Is Mine (2017). Other projects have included synth-rock recordings with Butler under the name Roman Remains; elsewhere, Moss has leant her sublime voice to studio and live collaborations with UNKLE, Nick Cave, Giorgio Moroder and Lost Horizons, the project formed by former Dif Juz drummer Richie Thomas and Bella Union’s Simon Raymonde, who produced three Duke Spirit albums.
In 2017, Raymonde said this of Moss: “Outrageously talented as she is, I still think her best is yet to come.” Offering full affirmation on both fronts – outrageous talent, incoming best – 'My Name Is Safe in Your Mouth' is a haunting snapshot of an intuitive artist seeking new ways to work without safety nets, a quest spurred forwards by her move to Somerset in 2014. As Moss puts it, “Whilst the tentacles of city started to loosen their grip, I began amassing vocals that I felt cut a stark silhouette, and I didn't want to share with big drums and distorted guitars. I work on a few projects at a time, and the contrast of having disparate musical worlds to step into makes me feel more satisfied. But with this record, I'd gone way deeper than anything merely gratifying. I'd gone into that wordless-sparse-Haiku-what-the-fuck-silent-personal-revelation zone!”
If the record is revelatory to listen to, it was no less so for its creator, explains Moss. “This album feels like a trip through a hall of mirrors, where the overall subject is kinda the same (themes of renewal, the emergence of new energy, exploring the idea of devotion) but as you step through space the characteristics get weirder, distort a little. The album is me; the innermost version of me, but now all is a little uncanny, mysterious, as if I'll learn more about myself when I come to play them live.” On the strength of 'My Name Is Safe in Your Mouth', a fantastic journey awaits.
1. Memories and Faces 2. Subequal 3. Into The Flesh 4. Above You, Around You 5. Wild As Fire 6. Manipura 7. New Leaves 8. Salutation 9. Moon 10. Hidden Sea