Last Night I Lit the Moon, Anna-Anna
by Pierre Lestruhaut
If earlier this year, releases like those of Dávila 666 and Los Claveles had us all worked up for garage and post-punk revivalism, with its commonly associated vinyl fever, lately we’ve been sort of falling a bit more for some uncanny self-everything releases by newcomers we’ve been encountering online, precisely like these last couple of destacados: Anna-Anna and Installed. And you do have to realize just how fortuitous it is that something like Anna-Anna, a sort of mysterious musical persona dissipated among the unbrowsability of online music sharing platforms and countless other acts uploading their music for free, actually found its way into our ears.
The woman behind this project is Manuela Leal, a Brazilian visual artist who moved to the U.S. as a teenager, but later returned to her home country, where she’s been making “indie electronic” music for less than a year. Her debut EP, Last Night I Lit the Moon, is the sort of record that’s immediately striking for its outstanding uniqueness and, because of this, it's a record that can be enjoyed both as an easy listening experience and as a wholly immersive one, where her distinctive soundscaping and jaw-dropping lines hit you even harder. Which is why easy comparisons can be drawn between Manuela Leal and other women making avant-pop, like Laurie Anderson, Trish Keenan (Broadcast, RIP), or even the rising Claire Boucher (aka Grimes). Yet, these comparisons would seem to be a lot more fueled by gender and overall edginess, than in an actual similarity in their distinctive approach to song-crafting.
The title track is described by Leal as “a sci-fi torch song,” a staggering and unpredictable piece defined by otherworldly sounds and a whispering voice that mumbles to us as if it were, in fact, coming from that distant place. “Cat Eyes” is a fluttering picture that paints French new wave film characters as persons with otherworldly attributes, as she sings “I’ve got Cat Eyes, baby. My laser vision will melt your love” to the sound of a throbbing electronic beat and hypnotic keyboard lines. It’s precisely this sort of effective manipulation of electronic elements that allows Anna-Anna to create evocative moods and dense atmospherics in spite of her limited sonic palette and simple song structures, something she also does very well in “Tiny Feathers,” with its stunning series of simple MIDI-keyboard lines. This actually makes me think she might not be too far from acts like Dirty Beaches, or even The Weeknd, at least if you look at the very surface of their musical approach and how they manage to evoke all different kinds of moods and atmospheres out of simple elements like peculiar samples, murky production, or even unusual vocal interpretation.
Then with “Mirrors of America,” by far Leal’s most ambient-influenced track, which merely consists of a ghostly piano that could be looped by The Caretaker and a Tim Hecker-like drone, she actually turns the whole picture upside down. Like most ambient music, it’s a song that manages to sonically aestheticize our surroundings and define the images we see instead of evoking a particular mood separating us from reality. For me, its themes of architectural contemplation (“The city cast in stone and concrete moves in predictable drones”) and longing for a better present (“What can be seen is already past, what is today doesn’t match”) have been acting as the bittersweet soundtrack to the drivings around the decaying areas of my hometown, while Carlos Reyes has mentioned how shaken it made him feel to listen to it while watching 9/11 footage. Because even if this is clearly music that’s as intimate and personal as you’ll ever get, it also bears a very touching universality, one that grows from “the idea that music provides alternate models of existence that can be inhabited by anyone," as Manuela Leal has said it herself. We can only wonder if there really is any other music like the one she's making.