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Leah Abramson Leah Abramson
Album: Songs For A Lost Pod
Label: Headless Owl
Tracks: 8

Not a lament for some misplaced multipurpose pocket computer or music player, but rather, the solo debut by the Vancouver-bred member of The Abramason Singers is an eco-themed conceptual album exploring interspecies communication, intergenerational trauma (Abramson lost many of her family in the Holocaust), planetary pollution and the possibilities for reconnection, told from the perspective of different whale species. Not your everyday folk album, then.

Taking its title from the collective name for a group of whales, usually bonded together by either biological reasons or through friendships, it combines her signature vocal layering with experimental beats and tracks formed though collaboration with the likes of Scottish fiddler Aidan O'Rourke from Lau, J.J. Ipsen and Canadian electronic experimentalists Sandro Perri and Antoine Bedard and the incorporation of processed whale vocalisations gathered from field recordings of the A5 pod of orcas off the coast of British Columbia.

Originally written for her Masters of Fine Arts thesis and also being released alongside a companion comic book which provides narratives to the underlying stories, it starts with the trip hop feel of the breathily sung 'Pilot Protest' with its interlaced guitars, synths and electronic percussion, about Pilot whales beaching themselves to protest against humanity.

Backed by minimal piano, guitar and synths, 'Pender Harbour', the place where captured whales were kept before being transferred, emphasises her multi-tracked dreamy vocals, the lyrics referencing that orcas each have a signature 'whistle' that distinguishes them from others in the pod and that they 'hear' through vibrations in their jawbones, the track giving way to 'Skana', the accordion, cello and bass clarinet drone giving a traditional folk feel (I'm reminded of Enya) to a number named for and written from the perspective of the first orca to be put on display, at the Vancouver Aquarium, in 1967.

With its pulsing percussion and incantation backing vocals, 'Fossil Dust', a reference to an archaeological site in Chile, believed to contain the remains of dozens of marine mammals , many extinct, from mass strandings millions of years ago, now buried under a highway, 'has an hypnotic tribal ambience, 'Resting Line', on which she collaborated with Arliss Renwick, the electronic mastermind also known as Pellucid, is a more ethereal affair based on the synchronicity of whales rising to the surface in family pods to breathe while sleeping.

Crafted around Bedard's electronic beats and synths and another number to highlight her layered vocals, 'Lampedusa' refers to the titular Mediterranean island, the surrounding waters not just a breeding ground for fin whales, but a magnet for both dolphins (part of the same family as orcas and pilot whales) and refugees from Libya and nodding to anecdotal reports of the former rescuing people from drowning.

The most experimental of the tracks and the one most focused on the idea of communication, 'Hey, Hi, Hello' is a repetition of the title, counting and lines like "do you hear me?" and "I wanted to tell you" smothered in an electronic storm of processed whale vocalisations, serving as a prelude to the self-explanatory closing number, 'The Lost, The Gone', a soaring pure ambient folk vocal around which swirl whale song whistles with O'Rourke underscoring things on fiddle.

While there was, of course, Roger Payne's seminal field recordings Songs of the Humpback Whale and artists such as Lou Reed, Judy Collins, Charlie Haden, Pete Seeger and avant garde composer Steven Snow have incorporated whale song into their material, this is the first time anyone has approached it in such a perceptive and detailed manner, extending the scientific findings and associations to humanity at large. It requires reflective listening to experience the full effect, but it's well worth seeking out.

Mike Davies