When I got first introduced to Leah Kardos’ music, I was about to review her debut album Feather Hammer, sold to me as “something weird and tricky”. I immediately fell in love. The follow up, Machines, has been stealing my heart ever since it entered my world. Again there’s a strong concept behind it, very consistent throughout the record - it’s a song cycle around the theme of technology.
What makes Machines instantly unique and captivating, is the soprano of Laura Wolk-Lewanowicz, an Australian opera singer. The angelic voice, teamed with the theme of the album, create a very touching commentary on the current human condition. It sounds like a lot of big words, however the lyrics have been composed using the cut-out technique and the material Leah used to cut them out of was nothing else but her spam folder (I highly recommend having a look at the actual lyrics sheet with the original spam messages on Leah’s blog). The combination is striking: automatically generated spam messages, evoking the loneliness and hollowness of cyberspace, sung by a classically trained opera singer to the sound of Leah’s electronic soundscapes.
The album opens with ‘Incantation’, a song that could fool you into thinking that it’s just classical singing to electronic music, until you listen to the lyrics: "Perfection not faultlessness / All the software you need". The chorus of the following ‘Credo Deus’ (in English - ‘To believe God’) "You can reach me, you can read me" again strikes as existential until you realise that the rest of the song is based on an email we all received at least once: "I wish to notify you again / A deceased client of mine / That shares you (sic) name / Whose tragic heart condition / Was due to the death (sic) of his family in the / Tsunami in Sumatra". There’s ironic beauty in the contrast between deep and meaningful phrases and the generic junk they get lost between. As the record progresses, the soprano gets more and more electronic alterations, like in ‘Radiate Heat Into Space’, where the automated message is spoken by an equally automated voice - "Is there a you for you to take?".
My personal favourite on the album is ‘Sexy Monday’, a song that pops up in my head every time I think of the three reasons why I hate my job (sexy Monday isn’t one of them, I wish I had a sexy Monday to moan about). It opens classically and gets into a very synthpopy zone - if you can imagine synthpop with a soprano that is, before it bears cabaret references. To me this is the peak of the record - everything comes together: the soprano climbing the highest of heights, the spam message so relevant to our everyday problems ("why do you hate your life?"), yet so mechanical, the synths and the beats sounding oh so happy-go-lucky... If someone asked me to explain post-modernism with a piece of music, I’d just play them this song, it really embraces it to the fullest. ‘Highly Active Girls’ are the perfect complement - "Highly active girls craving for you / We have the medical cure / Stop leaving your partner dissatisfied" - a machine voice on a cloud of electronic music offering solutions to the most intimate of human problems in the most robotic and inhuman way.
Machines is the perfect follow up to Feather Hammer - Leah Kardos isn’t scared to experiment and doesn’t fail to surprise. Her debut was focused on music and celebrated the piano, while creating escapist soundscapes. This time she takes a step forward and uses lyrics to engage a discussion. The concept of this album is more than relevant to all the issues we face while living in an online community. Musically it’s beautifully understated and once you get past the lyrical level, you’ll discover Leah’s virtuosity. It’s an absolutely stunning and unique piece of work. It makes me completely clueless as to where Leah’s heading next, but I already can’t wait to find out.