Todd Tobias & Chloe March “Amialluma” Reviewed at Textura

“If there’s one word that describes Amialluma, a thoroughly enrapturing collection by English vocalist Chloë March and American instrumentalist Todd Tobias, it’s bewitching. It’s not the first time the two have joined forces, March having earlier guested on his 2015 set Gila Man, but it is the first time they’ve shared equal billing on an album—a fitting gesture as both of their contributions are integral to the musical outcome and its narcotizing effect. Known for his work with Guided by Voices, Tobias is the less familiar textura presence of the two; March, on the other hand, has been mesmerizing us with her vocal gifts and atmospheric songcraft for many years now, most recently with her superb solo outing Blood-Red Spark.

One thing about Amialluma in particular merits immediate mention, that being the duo’s decision to have March sing newly invented words in place of a known language—a critical and brilliant choice, critical in allowing the music to sever any and all connections to real-world content and relatedly brilliant in bolstering the ethereal, dream-like character of the music. Yes, the move does understandably invite comparison to a similar approach adopted by Cocteau Twins, yet Amialluma never feels derivative or as if the duo’s following a path laid out by another. Amialluma carves out its own distinct and self-contained space, one deeply celestial in tone.

Tobias’s gauzy, keyboards-based soundscapes sever earthly ties from the moment “Lillavva” establishes the album’s heavenly aura, which is bolstered even more when March’s soft, sensual utterances appear; the aptly lulling “Ma Leila Lulla” and serene closer “Cherra Leilahi” drift like gently floating clouds of choral whispers and fragile vocal musings. In some cases (e.g., “Shehehs”), Tobias’s ambient soundscaping exudes a brooding, industrial-ambient quality that suggests darker spaces have been entered, a quality that March naturally responds to in kind.

She’s in exceptionally fine voice throughout, and demonstrates remarkable invention and a bold absence of inhibition in the myriad vocal effects—coos, stutters, trills, and the like—she drapes across her partner’s backings. In “Lallulow,” she metamorphs before one’s ears from a human form into something more abstractly creature-like, whereas “Inttavei” sees Tobias crafting a mysterious minimal backdrop for her to emote against, the singer responding to the sound design with upward swoops and entranced murmurings.

Text in the accompanying press release suggests that a narrative of sorts was conceived for the release involving a child’s journey from the safe haven of its mother’s care through shadowy realms that are eventually overcome. Truth be told, I’d rather pretend no such narrative exists in order to allow the music to most deeply inhabit its own enigmatic space sans grounding in conventional human experience. March’s voice and Tobias’s music together communicate perfectly well on their own self-defined terms, and no real-world representational anchor’s needed to enhance the presentation.”

If there’s one word that describes Amialluma, a thoroughly enrapturing collection by English vocalist Chloë March and American instrumentalist Todd Tobias, it’s bewitching. It’s not the first time the two have joined forces, March having earlier guested on his 2015 set Gila Man, but it is the first time they’ve shared equal billing on an album—a fitting gesture as both of their contributions are integral to the musical outcome and its narcotizing effect. Known for his work with Guided by Voices, Tobias is the less familiar textura presence of the two; March, on the other hand, has been mesmerizing us with her vocal gifts and atmospheric songcraft for many years now, most recently with her superb solo outing Blood-Red Spark.

One thing about Amialluma in particular merits immediate mention, that being the duo’s decision to have March sing newly invented words in place of a known language—a critical and brilliant choice, critical in allowing the music to sever any and all connections to real-world content and relatedly brilliant in bolstering the ethereal, dream-like character of the music. Yes, the move does understandably invite comparison to a similar approach adopted by Cocteau Twins, yet Amialluma never feels derivative or as if the duo’s following a path laid out by another. Amialluma carves out its own distinct and self-contained space, one deeply celestial in tone.

Tobias’s gauzy, keyboards-based soundscapes sever earthly ties from the moment “Lillavva” establishes the album’s heavenly aura, which is bolstered even more when March’s soft, sensual utterances appear; the aptly lulling “Ma Leila Lulla” and serene closer “Cherra Leilahi” drift like gently floating clouds of choral whispers and fragile vocal musings. In some cases (e.g., “Shehehs”), Tobias’s ambient soundscaping exudes a brooding, industrial-ambient quality that suggests darker spaces have been entered, a quality that March naturally responds to in kind.

She’s in exceptionally fine voice throughout, and demonstrates remarkable invention and a bold absence of inhibition in the myriad vocal effects—coos, stutters, trills, and the like—she drapes across her partner’s backings. In “Lallulow,” she metamorphs before one’s ears from a human form into something more abstractly creature-like, whereas “Inttavei” sees Tobias crafting a mysterious minimal backdrop for her to emote against, the singer responding to the sound design with upward swoops and entranced murmurings.

Text in the accompanying press release suggests that a narrative of sorts was conceived for the release involving a child’s journey from the safe haven of its mother’s care through shadowy realms that are eventually overcome. Truth be told, I’d rather pretend no such narrative exists in order to allow the music to most deeply inhabit its own enigmatic space sans grounding in conventional human experience. March’s voice and Tobias’s music together communicate perfectly well on their own self-defined terms, and no real-world representational anchor’s needed to enhance the presentation.

Textura

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