Rant ‘N’ Roll: Noemi Liba

Exotic, mysterious, sensual, the music of Noemi Liba, like her name, flows off the lips rhythmically. A beautiful Aussie, I met her on the streets of New York and found myself having dinner with her.

“I’m a recording artist,” she told me.

“I’m a music journalist,” I told her. Some of the greatest relationships in history have started with less.

She almost whispers through opener “Carry” on the debut full-length, See, Saw. Almost. Her voice is a wisp in the soundscape electronica, like cigarette smoke circling in the air. “Protect” has a Middle Eastern vibe, snake charmer-style. In song after song, she projects the image of the waif, innocent-but-knowing. It’s a provocative stance. The little bells and triangles that dot “Tonight” give it a childlike percussive quality. Then comes “Unwinding,” with its chant of “I’ve got sweaty palms/I’ve been hurt.” The string quartet that comes out of nowhere to stop the percussive layer is a seconds-only gorgeous break. Then the strings and the percussion dance together in minor key madness before stopping on a dime to introduce “My Arrears” and things really start to get weird. Closer “Float” gets close to jazz vocalese territory.

Liba splits her time between Australia, Europe and the U.S. She had given me her Freefall EP after we dined and I loved it: Tape loops, percussion, electronic confusion and, through it all, that voice, that stark declarative jazzy voice. See, Saw takes it to the next level with flutes, strings and tubas recorded in Chicago, guitar/bass/drums recorded in Brooklyn, keyboards, vocals and horns in Melbourne.

With no musical precedent to fall back on for easy categorization, one is forced to consider the arrangements and lyrics independently. You might think Bjork, Laurie Anderson or Kate Bush but you’d be wrong. This is unique stuff. Liba didn’t go for instant accessibility here. It takes some getting used to. I mean, hell, I looked into the limpid pools of her eyes across the dinner table so maybe I understand her sound more than a stranger. Or not.

The only immediate constant of See, Saw is its abject beauty. It’s understated and it’s the strings, flute and tuba that elevate it into another realm. But, make no mistake about it, within all the dreams and clouds of her mysterioso sound, Noemi Liba is a singer/songwriter. Her themes are spiritual. Her delivery can be deadpan but it can also be alluring and sophisticated, enticing the ear with a lazy purr or the use of silence in-between the syllables.

She’s getting popular in her native Australia. Stateside, she’s performed at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music with a 21-piece orchestra as well as the United Nations in New York City and Kennedy Center in D.C.

See, Saw was mixed by John Hudson who won a Grammy Award for his work with Tina Turner.

So after listening to this thing over and over, I just had to find out who the hell she would list as her influences. The answers were surprising: Billie Holiday, Frank Zappa, The Cure, early music of Medieval Europe, The Orb, Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter.

Noemi Liba is truly something special. I knew that the minute I met her. She has a degree in philosophy and literature. She’s a published poet, a new mom and she’s collaborated with some of the most adventurous musicians in the world including Biennale artist Heri Dono as well as Yair Dalal and the Chicago Oriental Orchestra. In a series of solo performances with a string trio she performed with cutting edge three-dimensional projection team eness in Melbourne.

Noemi Liba Noemi Liba Noemi Liba, it just sounds so beautiful.