Modern Love / UK / 2022 / LP, Clear
Laila Sakini's new album 'Paloma' arrives via Modern Love and is her most striking and ambiguous to date - a pointed and timely meditation on hope and hierarchies that riffs on Zbigniew Preisner's magical "The Double Life of Veronique" score and enduring outsider music tome "The Langley Schools Music Project". Subtly transcendent, fathoms-deep music that's had us in cold sweats for months - highly recommended if you’re into Dominique Lawalrée, Grouper, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Streets of Philadelphia’.
When Laila Sakini's debut album ‘Vivienne’ arrived in 2020, it felt like the record we were waiting for to map out our tangled reactions to an uninvited reality. Never self-consciously strange, it revealed itself slowly and cautiously, like a shadow in the corner of the eye, or an alchemical symbol in a bowl of alphabet spaghetti. This time around Sakini has worked her unique world-building to an even finer point, forming six tracks around a theme that's so close to our heart it's almost beating in time. Initially inspired by Krzysztof Kieślowski's 1991 arthouse classic "The Double Life of Veronique", the cult Polish director's enduring modern fairytale that serves as a cosmic rumination on identity and choice. Detailing two identical women - both singers, both in love - the film lets one live as the other dies, forcing us to consider the implications of art and endurance in the face of life's myriad challenges.
Sakini takes Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner's influential score for the film and uses it as a jumping-off point for ‘Paloma’, bending the more grandiose moments into baroque awkwardness on opening track 'Fluer D'Oranger' and evoking the mood of scene-setting cues 'Weronika' and 'Véronique' on the recorder-led 'The Light That Flickers In The Mirror'. And while Preisner's score zeroed in on the musical virtuosity of the film's lead characters, Sakini reinterprets that as a metaphor for self-discovery. Playing piano, violin, glockenspiel, timbale, recorder, and occasionally singing, Sakini captures a mood of innocence that immediately transports the listener back to simpler times. Her music isn't self-consciously simplistic, but forcing herself to interface with instruments impulsively rather than studiously, her sounds are all heart, no filigree.
In spirit, it reminds us of cult Canadian album "The Langley Schools Music Project", a collection of 1970s recordings of school kids singing rudimentary renditions of pop songs in a school gymnasium. That album's genius was in the bottling of hope and innocence: the feeling of joy from hearing and wholesomely interacting with music that's known and loved without a sense of hierarchy or desire for cultural clout. Sakini subtly subverts this by evoking the amateur spirit in the most bewitching way; instead of sourcing her ideas from Bowie, Fleetwood Mac and the Beach Boys, her stock is the established art canon, and by reforming those sounds she makes an insightful comment on intellectualism and access. European classical music is all too often trapped behind the frosted glass of respectability and assumed skill - craft replaces spirit, and technique replaces soul. By approaching these gestures from a different angle, Sakini softens the edges sonically and intellectually, finding music that bubbles with emotion, and most strikingly - hope.
Her choice of instruments and the way she interacts with them allows us to feel as if we're not only listening but contributing. It's a bottom-up way of absorbing art that's traditionally been top-down, and a reminder that we're all part of the experience, whether we're humming along to the remnants of a theme as it dribbles out of an ear in the shower, or dreaming of spotlights in a parallel life that may or may not be real. Sakini's music is nostalgic in a sense, but nowhere near the buttered popcorn and high-fructose candy migraine of the Netflix/Spotify algorithm generation of regurgitated churn. She makes sounds that remind us of what time and experience may have stolen from us, and how we might recover it.