Location: Oakland, California
Genre: Ambient, neoclassical
Full Length: Phantasiai
Format: Digital album, CD, vinyl
Label: Cyclic Law (France), Cloister Recordings (USA)
Release date: July 16, 2021
Oakland, California, USA-based multi-instrumental composer Leila Abdul-Rauf is becoming known for basing concept albums on the kind of human experiences we all face in our lifetimes. These include times we when can’t seem to fall asleep at night and the inevitable moment when life itself expires. She presents the deep thought she gives each subject of her recordings as a bottomless abyss, one that is inescapable because it exists inside all our minds. Dark, unnerving, and beautiful, Abdul-Rauf’s albums compel us to look closer at the darkness in our own souls, the fear and wonder waiting to be experienced by every one of us.
Her music is somewhere between the ambient instrumentals of Burzum, the operatic work of Diamanda Galas and the earthy tones of Serpentine Arborvitae. But these similarities I perceived can’t completely describe the profound magnificence she reveals in herself and her musicianship, or in the depth of her imagination. Her latest recording “Phantasiai” is a waking nightmare from which there is no escape, based on a Greek word meaning imagination and the Greek verb “phainomai” meaning “I appear”. The connection between these refers to the psychological capacity to receive and interpret ideas and sensory input from without.
Sensation is needed for there to be phantasia, and phantasia is needed for there to be thought, as was generally stated by Greek philosophers. Our imagination processes the input presented to us. Abdul-Rauf puts across the idea that music and art emerge from the place in our minds between sense and thought, and in many cases, music and art can express what words cannot. This notion is where the appeal of her work lies and explains why “Phantasiai” is such a deeply profound experience.
With a bare minimum of instruments, Abdul-Rauf creates what she calls her coldest and most sinister work to date. She encourages her listeners to use their imagination and create their own narratives while listening. Her own narrative, presented in two suites of four movements each, is of a character seduced by an addictive, powerful phantasy that slowly consumes the body, mind and spirit to the point of complete destruction. From there the former self is vaporized, purged of pain, only to be reorganized physically and spiritually. The abyss this character falls into is as disorienting as it is inescapable, and reality is reduced to a question.
Along with this album’s atmosphere and production, Abdul-Rauf’s musicianship and vocals chill you to the bone, overpowering your senses and getting right into your head. I strongly recommend you give this and her past recordings a chance as they lead you to examine your perception and the stimulus you absorb every day. It takes you to a place of total darkness and eventually returns you to the physical world with more of an understanding of what makes you what you are. The journey is complex, intense and perturbing, but as you’re inexorably drawn into the bottomless chasm you still suspect you’re reaching a light at the tunnel’s end. –Dave Wolff
1. Distortions in Phantasy I: Lure
2. Distortions in Phantasy II: Consumption
3. Distortions in Phantasy III: Suspension
4. Distortions in Phanstasy IV: Disembodiment
5. The I Emerges I: Rebirth
6. The I Emerges II: In and Out of Being
7. The I Emerges III: Imago and Mirror
8. The I Emerges IV: Cell