CD review: Lhasa – Lhasa

Montrealer emerges from half-decade silence with another masterpiece.

New York-born, Mexico-raised Montrealer Lhasa de Sela waited five years between her 1998 debut, La Llorona, and its follow-up, 2003’s masterful The Living Road. In that time, she quit the music industry to join a circus in France, eventually finding the inspiration to cobble a near-perfect album from scraps of tango, jazz, folk and gospel.

The six years between The Living Road and this year’s Lhasa weren’t quite so colourful, but they certainly haven’t been wasted: De Sela seems to have spent the time shedding every unnecessary layer from her already primal sound.

Most of the tracks centre on De Sela’s mournful vocals, now solely in English, unlike the trilingual Road. An upright bass and minimal percussion typically throb underneath, with delicate harp and arpeggiated guitar to accentuate the dreamy mood. That mood remains nearly unbroken, but thereÕs enough variation to keep things from getting too monochromatic, owing particularly to the singer’s knack for defying expectations. “Love Came Home” emphasizes the longing of classic slow-burn soul without the catharsis that usually comes with the genre, while the muted tango “The Lonely Spider” revels in the sinister side of lust.

Though less ambitious than The Living Road in its arrangements, Lhasa is every bit as meticulous — no surprise, given the singer’s methodical pace. Even at a half-decade per album, though, it’s hard find fault with results like these.

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