Ayla Nereo – BeHeld (self-released)
By Hannah Golightly
Can you fall in love with a sound? Can love itself be expressed in sound? Because if so, this is surely that sound.
“All my angels walk the earth,” sang Daniel Steinbock on his recent EP ‘The Blade’, which Ayla Nereo collaborated on. Listening to BeHeld, I now know one of the angels he must have been referring to…
This record is the sonic equivalent of a mother soothing her baby creating inside them a feeling of love and security – of being held. It’s a pretty girl set free and dancing in the sun across a field. It’s a child delighted by playing outside and muddying her dress, so absorbed she is in playing in the grass. Gentle, lush, pretty but no pushover. A charmed life. Daydreams on a summer’s day.
‘Headin’ North’… mid-song there’s an unexpected turn on a tour through different dimensions that guides us beyond the curtain that defines time and space where we happen upon a Speakeasy as the journey continues it’s endless intrigue. Like Midnight In Paris where the lead character finds himself wandering between different eras of Paris, Ayla leads us to the best parties seamlessly blending the present with the most tenderest musical moments of the past. And the whole thing is joyful. Satisfying.
Where other singers of her ilk fall down with their great ideas, crashing and burning on the rocks of nauseating tweeness overkill, Nereo leaves them all for dust with her charismatic gentle strength and the confident stride of her vocals. Her voice is certainly something special and rare, for it never misses a note, never frays and always glides in pure and true. And you can tell she means it.
Just when you get comfortable with knowing the terrain, the songs change offering up sights of ever-expanding new horizons and each one more beautiful and breathtaking than the last. If I was listening to this album on a train, I would probably recount that the scenery and weather had been especially pleasant that day, infused with the vibes of this soundtrack, that’s how my mind would have painted it.
As a fan of Miss Li, I can recommend this to others who like that sort of thing. It’s different to Miss Li, probably more diverse with the various genres that this essentially modern folk music encompasses. It’s like a not-just-bearable but delectable Joanna Newsom’s dream music. It’s like Moldy Peaches minus the twee. It’s like Elliott Smith minus the depression.
I am tempted to make an inventory of all the various musical instruments that are played on this record. Yes, it’s complex, with multiple melodies, layered, textured, peppered with pared down moments and subtle cacophonies galore. Never a note wasted in spite of the long list of pianos, xylophones, hand clapping, trombones, double basses, harps, guitars… hang on a moment, were there tubas in there?
Campfire rounds singing with friends cosied by blankets, the fire light softening expressions, bringing peace.
What strikes me is that this record seems to be doing nothing especially new – this is no reinvention of the wheel happening here. But I don’t care. Not when it sounds this inventive, fresh and modern. Folk is evolving. Now it has special effects that add to its authenticity and strikes at the heart of a stale scene, breathing new life into old shapes.
I am not typically a fan of vocal harmonising is music, probably because I have heard so many examples of it done badly. Ayla Nereo has completely changed my mind on that now. Her harmonies are perfect, unexpected, original and essential.
I could listen to this all day. It’s not even a genre I spend too much time absorbed in, but forgive me if I go cheating on my steady boyfriend with this stuff.
Bright and light but build from strong substance. Lyrical mastery. You could go collecting bundles of wild flowers with these songs in your ears. You could lay around between sheets with your lover cuddling up to this music. You could make handcrafts at your kitchen table to this stuff. You could go for a walk along the beach to this sound. You could nurse a Skins style comedown to this soundtrack. You could hop over stepping stones on a stream with your children to this.
Pulsing thumping computerised beats take me by surprise. A radiant semi-explosion of brass band pipes up to join in. And who wouldn’t want to join in with the catchy energy going on here? Vocal loop pedals remind me of Tuneyards, but in this context seem less jarring and more natural. Yeah, Ayla Nereo manages to make computers sound organic! And if that’s not a sign of true artistic expression, then I don’t know what is.
I’m subconsciously listening out for the inevitable weak link song or songs that every album has or at least the downer moment, the slip of the mood… I’ve got BeHeld on repeat so I missed the end, waiting for that moment but it never came. Is this really possible? I check back and can’t believe what I’ve just heard.
BeHeld by Ayla Nereo is available to buy on download here.