Low Leaf


It is quite the feat when, as a self-described DIY musician, your performance repertoire includes sidling up to the worthy likes of Fly Lo, Robert Glasper and Roy Ayers. There have only been a few harpists on my radar over the years, yet all of whom I view as mighty female figures with unprecedented style. Take Joanna Newsom’s complex lyricism and tome-like works, or Alice Coltrane’s and Dorothy Ashby’s respective breeds of transportive jazz. Low Leaf has no classical training on the harp, though from a few preparatory listens it feels integral to the constant feature – some form of spiritualism – across her songs. Her recorded live rendition of Aaliyah’s ‘One in a Million’ is mostly a soft treatment of the smooth original, where the breezy harp has full rhythmic accompaniment. Her own songs include an electronic element that features in both recorded and live settings, and is partly what has piqued my interest to hear more.

On arrival I imprudently fail to realise that the music being played through the speakers is coming from the adjacent gig room. Instead I’ve been waiting in the bar, trying to work out the origin of the synth and high but serene vocals. Before I’ve had chance to form anything more than a superficial opinion of support act Ova – cool and moody – they make an exit declining the small audience’s encore request (no doubt to keep a tight ship). A medium-sized harp is brought on, replacing the grandiose expectations I’ve formed in advance.

I’ve already seen Low Leaf (whose other moniker is Angelica Lopez) tonight, quietly meandering in the entrance. She informs us it’s the last show of tour after a stretch in Europe. It’s “like a familiar vibration” to be here, she tells us, before graciously offering thanks to us ”for existing in this part of the planet”. The stage is spaciously dotted with three other band members on flute, five-stringed bass and electric guitar. All of them adorn printed clothing, following suit from the palm leaf-patterned tablecloth on which Lopez keeps her Mac. The four kick into a short introductory tune with a two-chord repetition on the harp and gentle hums. It moves into ‘It is Within’, which I recognise from 2016’s Palm Psalms: A Light To Resolve All Darkness. Lopez’s affinity with the cosmic is yet more apparent as she lays bare the title’s meaning: “it’s referring to the truth, the way, the path”. It’s an understated jazz tune that gives Lopez cause for some finely pained facial expressions as she sings with heart lines like “the world is full of illusions”. Her lyrics – her music – are an ode to sky and earth, and the dark room lit with pink would do well to be more mid-June outdoors, the sun setting.

The band follow up with a Filipino-titled song (said with, she confesses, “a bad American accent”) dedicated to a Filipino fan who’s made his presence known, though the song itself seems mostly English. In between plucking, Lopez grooves her arms backwards whilst the song sings of purpose on earth. Some beautiful high harp notes fleck the chorus, showing off its ability to sound ethereal and transcendent, the instrument’s obvious USP. Later in the song there’s an array of visceral, harmonic groans and yeahs. She uses the laptop to make unctuous watery sounds whilst there’s deep, swathing bass and reverbed guitar embellishments. It breaks into Lopez’s spoken word, as the music dips in and out of forcefulness, all the way feeling like a space intermittence or otherworldly transmission. The lyrics comprise of modern existential query (“I’ve got lost in the internet before”) and alternative cosmography (“and if the earth is flat, then this song is not in vain”). She appears to laugh at herself, before a skittish, fairly quiet DnB rhythm underlines the scene. She is ever more pained in the face, but the vocals become interestingly lined by looped singing, and she leaves her perch to dance to and for herself.

The next song is more overwhelmingly and excitingly electronic in the intro, “a chant” in which the flautist switches to a soprano saxophone. The bass and guitar so far are complementary and don’t consume the sound, whilst the more delicate harp is given greater presence by the reverb and well-chosen crescendos. I enjoy the moments where the beats ground the sound, adding pace and serving functionally as clever segues. Occasionally the guitar and bass are funkier in tow, Lopez in according bodily motion. At moments the chord progressions are lush and flowering, even if the band’s setup is fairly static and the audience is sat and (mostly) stilled. This is contrasted by the bass effects that follow: more industrial and flangered (I can feel it in my seat) but nicely scored by the less affected woodwind and glassy harp.

Low Leaf

It’s only sporadically that I notice the band’s apparent youthfulness, such is their tightness and flair as a unit. When, at cowboy time, our vocalist calls the last song, there is abrupt denial from the centre-front of the audience, a comment to which Lopez complies, suggesting there are a few more up her short sleeves. As the set continues, the other band members show similar signs to Lopez of being carried by their own music: eyes closed, chins compressed, heads tilting back as the moment takes them. I do the odd internal groan at my own aching frame and take a pause to be glad of the genre before me. It’s one that invariably gives me real stress-relief, though my best attempts to label it – electro-soul, Harp’n’B – are inadequate. The song brings a rattling, skidding intro, giving me flashes of Bonobo’s Black Sands, though quickly made Low Leaf sans doute with that distinct vocal sound. The drum machine is deployed with heavy thuds and slightly syncopated rhythms. Nothing except perhaps the more guttural of Lopez’s vocals really takes centre stage, a choice move as the instruments weave between one another without imposing (apart from the drum machine here and there, making a statement when it does so, and carrying no ego with it).

The stage could have taken more movement, but the music is powerful in unlikely ways: when the flute can be heard with total clarity for example, or the pretty, piecemeal delivery of the guitar. The band appear chumlike as Lopez rubs a friendly elbow into the flautist at the end, and they follow off in a line. They’re quick to scoot back on for an encore with 2014’s ‘Heart Machine’, replete with speedy, space-occupying beats upon which Lopez raps. It casts my mind to Hiatus Kaiyote’s ‘Atari’ and is more purposefully jarring than the rest of the night’s set. The rap/singing brings a different, sharper vibe, equipped with scattergun drums and ready-to-go recorded vox. Only here might it seem apt for the crowd to be less setback and sat down.

As we leave, we speak with Lopez about the technical arrangements, when she asks if she knows me from somewhere. It’s cleared up when she tells me, “I must recognise your soul”. It’s said with an assurance in some kind of worldly order, an order central to an evening of music which has been at once exploratory and together, puncturing and soothing.

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Hannah Ross

Hummer and strummer with Kurt Vile hair. Likes neo-soul, reverb, and most things put out by Beggars. Will review for money and/or free tickets + exciting new music.