Review Summary: don't delay, make wavesAngels on the Slope
had an immediate and gratifying impact upon me that I don’t recall ever experiencing before in my life, save for perhaps the first time that Kid A
caught my ear. I levy such hefty praise upon Lisel’s debut album because I truly believe it to be of a higher kind of music – an echelon reserved for the most brilliant, forward-thinking minds. The sounds that Eliza Bagg (Pavo Pavo vocalist and collaborator with the likes of Julianna Barwick and Tim Hecker) concocts are complex and geometric, but undeniably melodic in such a way that preserves the integrity of the music. What I mean by this is that artistry
is more than just the application of intricate musical theories, or the haphazard juxtaposition of notes; it takes a keen ability to straddle the line between blazing a new frontier and writing something that somebody can actually sit down with, enjoy, and call music. This is where Bagg is at her best, crafting an elaborate and sophisticated piece that feels totally unique, but could also be qualified, digested, and enjoyed as indie-pop. It’s genius.
Lisel’s sonic intellectualism presents itself in a multifaceted way; it’s not all glitch beats and electronic demonry, although those things do still exist. Bagg is a skilled multi-instrumentalist, and it shows in spades with Angels
’ burgeoning classical elements. The pristine pianos that cascade down ‘Bloodletting’s scenic mountainside intertwine with fluttering strings, sliding easily across its synthy, ambient gaze. Less subtly, saxophones come bursting into the foreground on ‘GENUiNE’, an intriguing fusion of baroque pop and jazz. However, if you asked Eliza about these songs, she’d still say that the primary classical instrument on display is her voice – which she insists is “the genesis of every song.” Those blueprints can certainly be heard here, as Angels on the Slope
feels both guided and anchored by Bagg’s vocals, while all of the studio embellishments fall into place around her like electronic confetti gently raining from the sky.
This is hardly an obtuse coercion of discordant harmonies, the likes of which populate a large swath of what we consider to be “experimental” these days; it’s a series of beautiful melodies, accentuated by everything from the aforementioned classical inclusions to electronic/pop/rock aesthetics. ‘Digital Light Field’ for instance sounds warped – like dark matter reflecting, passing through a prism, and refracting. Limber synths contour around Bagg’s mathematical vocal chirps, contrasted by a straightforward indie-rock beat that even includes a few spare handclaps. Eliza doesn’t seem to fear obscurity or
accessibility, indulging her whims wherever they happen to lead. Consider the straightforward, danceable beat of ‘Sun and the Swarm’, which glows with a retro synthetic tint that could easily soundtrack an 80’s-themed Stranger Things
scene. Then there’s ‘Vanity’, which somehow manages to fit the bill as one of the weirdest sounding tracks on the record and
one of its catchiest, occupying that center section of Angels on the Slope
’s figurative Venn diagram. As is the case across much of the record, Bagg is able to maximize the best of both worlds with a combination of the tangible and the ethereal; in this case, a basic indie-pop beat that’s backlit by resplendent detuned guitar strums. I’d say it’s one hell of a balancing act, but nothing about the song – or this record – feels labored. It’s as if Lisel spontaneously germinated out of thin air to fill a need for daring, freeform compositions.
Angels on the Slope
is one of the most enthralling and unique debut albums to come out in years. Bagg could have succumbed to the trap of middling indie-pop, opting to take this solo career in a more marketable direction, but she resisted. Lisel could have also easily been an outlet for her wildest, off-the-wall imaginings with little regard for tune or structure; it’s a lot of the former yet somehow none of the latter. Within the confines of merely one record, Angels
feels like a comprehensive representation of everything that Eliza has to offer, a goal she actually aimed for herself, stating: “I wanted each song to be literally made out of me.” Lisel, as a project, seems to have already fulfilled her vision. It’s a bold venture into the unknown lights and shadows of experimental pop, a piece that immediately stamps Bagg’s name as the most innovative and promising artist to debut this year. As she sings on the fragile, gorgeous closer ‘This Time Tomorrow’: don't delay, make waves
. This is a personal and professional tidal wave.