Ada Lea Magnifies the Little Details on 'one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden'
Published Sep 21, 2021That neighbour on the corner — the one that's seen you stumble home seasick in the wee hours of the morning, that's watched quietly as you water your long gone tomato plants or wash streaks onto your windows — how is it that you don't know their voice? That cat too, the one that comes around in the evenings without a collar or any sense of fear, where does she live when the sun is out?
Alexandra Levy's latest record as Ada Lea, one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden, makes you wonder these things, the kind of music that illuminates the great big universe that can exist in a web of city blocks.
The record isn't necessarily about Levy's neighbourhood, but it's referenced directly, lovingly, several times; on "can't stop me from dying," she's infatuated not with the person laying naked in her bed, but with the intersections of streets and people and happenstance that steered them to it — "I'm in love with my neighbourhood."
The record is pressed at from all sides by the places that inspired it, navigating knotty relationships — with others, with yourself, with the world at large — with its feet planted firmly on the streets and fire escapes and creaking floors that host all our smallest triumphs and most humiliating collapses. In the tumbling drums of "partner" there's a warm, wine-pickled party that spills onto the lawn; in the low-riding, suspicious saxophone of "can't stop me from dying," a moment of strange eye contact through a caulk-rimmed apartment window. In the world of one hand, the humdrum becomes everything, our small relationships and unexplored street corners suddenly rendered with weight and meaning.
Levy's writing is both insular — her lyrics are dense and singular, her references specific and sometimes unknowable — and insulating, sketching her surroundings so vividly, so minutely, that a city can feel as familiar and often-unpredictable as the inside of your own head.
Over the rung-climbing guitar of "oranges," the visuals ooze steadily like honey — humming ash trees, crowded ash trays, stains, wild oranges, raspberry coats, red wine, concrete, bodies leaning on door frames and city parks in the daytime. The way Levy spits out "your bed positioned so the sun rises to your left and a bible of sorts lies to your right," words nearly tripping over themselves as the music plods beneath, is like an incantation — it paints a picture so quickly, so easily, that you'd swear you could feel your left side warm as the sun breaks the morning.
That sunlight, too, is an integral piece of one hand — the whole thing glows with a particular late-summer energy, its precise, golden hour arrangements hinting at the wide-open chill of fall. It slants and spreads like sunlight in the corners of the yard, breaks and glitters like mid-day beams on high windows. And while the record is strongest the further she leans from what would be considered "folk," Levy covers a wide swath of influence here — the heaving churn of "my love 4 u is real," the fluttering "writer in ny," the fingerpicked bob of "saltspring" — without disrupting the sway of shadow and light.
In reality, one hand covers a wide geographical range — New York, Montreal, Saltspring Island, places alluded to but never spoken aloud — but it still manages to feel like a diary of home, a peek into all the places that you know and those you don't know just yet. It's an album made for slipping down a side street and realizing, suddenly, that for all the years you've lived nearby, you'd never walked it before. (Next Door)