Compilations / Mixes
Listeners familiar with Leila Abdul-Rauf's name for her work in bands (past and present) such as Vastum, Ionophore, Hammers of Misfortune, Amber Asylum, and Bastard Noise might be understandably taken aback by the refined atmospheric character of her second solo album, Insomnia. Issued on Malignant Records' side-label Malignant Antibody, the collection speaks highly on behalf of the San Francisco-based multi-instrumentalist on compositional and sound design grounds. Listening to the forty-minute Insomnia, it's almost hard to believe it's by the same person who plays in a Death Metal outfit such as Vastum.
At the album's outset, ethereal voices drift through an opaque haze of bell shimmer and inchoate shudder in “Midnight,” ostensibly setting the stage for the dreamscapes that follow. Threading brass, piano, vocals, and myriad other sounds into eleven fog-drenched settings, Abdul-Rauf evokes a noir-ish realm far removed in space and time from the industrial-urban landscapes familiar to many of us. With her hushed voice added to smeared choral tones in “The Opening,” the material begins to assume a rather gothic, even prog-like quality, even if the result's far woozier than anything produced by a standard prog outfit, and when her voice re-appears on the later “He Sits in his Room,” it's almost impossible not to hear Grouper as a kindred spirit to Abdul-Rauf.The album plays like a shadowy dreamscape where different styles are explored and guests nudge the dirge-like songs into slightly different places. Insomnia's a bit of a family affair as well, given that Abdul-Rauf's mother Kat Young shows up to contribute a strong lead vocal to “Pull” (interestingly, the move only strengthens the album's connection to prog when Young's clear-voiced delivery recalls none other than that of Renaissance's Annie Haslam). Elsewhere, Abdul-Rauf's Ionophore bandmate Jan Hendrich bolsters the ghostly ambiance of “Absence” with E-bow playing and then does it again on “Wane,” this time accompanied by fellow Ionophore member Ryan Honaker on violins. If you've come this far, it won't surprise you to learn that standard Death Metal elements such as heavy guitar riffing and drumming are absent on Insomnia, whose transporting ambient soundscapes are light years removed from the kind of material you might hear Abdul-Rauf performing in a band context.