Lia Ices, Ices

Katy Henriksen

By Katy Henriksen

on 09.16.14 in Reviews

Lia Ices’s new sound appears from the get-go on her third studio release, with layers of tribal hand-drum rhythms, playful chanting, tambourines and hazy synths in opener “Tell Me.” Ices marks a drastic departure from the high-concept, unadorned ’70s folk rock of 2011′s Grown Unknown, on which she had already strayed from her piano-based singer-songwriter roots.

A journey into playful levity

It’s tempting to long for the glossy folk Lia Ices of old and write off the more experimental, overtly produced sound on Ices. The embrace of Auto-Tune, echo chambers and syncopated blippy whirs recalls Cat Power’s transformation documented in 2012′s Sun. Like Chan Marshall before her, Kessel reaches unabashedly toward synthetic beats and voice manipulation for a journey into playful levity.

Kessel’s voice has always been at the center of her music — it’s simultaneously high, mellow, rounded, soothing and heartbreaking. Grown Unknown framed her vocals gracefully with acoustic guitar, subtle strings and the occasional handclap sample. That voice remains in Ices, yet now it’s complemented by space-age loops and textures, and transformed via a dizzying array of filters. It’s still a focal point of her music, well documented in “Creature,” whose melody seems plucked directly from the trappings of the mostly-analog Grown Unknown, reinvented here as an oceanic dreamscape.

Ices‘ unwavering embrace of digital sounds reminds us that all those bits and canned loops can also be human, and the playfulness that comes from them can be meditation as necessary as the air we breathe.