LAL with Funky Teknicianz and DJs MoonstarR and Dialect at Harbourfront Centre's Brigantine Room (235 Queens Quay West), Saturday (March 20), 11:15 pm. $12.50. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Rosina Kazi is always seeking the balance between social message and musical transcendence. And as one half of the founding partnership responsible for the aural experiment LAL (along with real-life partner and studio wizard Nick Murray), she likes to credit those artists who have managed to find it. "Godspeed You Black Emperor! put out great music, and they also have the heavy political vibe," she says just days before launching LAL's new CD. "The way they're able to exist with that aura and thrive musically is fantastic.
"People often seem afraid to be associated with anything that has a note of activism to it," Kazi opines. "But it's not even about activism so much as it is about recognizing a personal politic. Just changing the way you see something that's there every day - questioning it."
"You have to let people find their own way," adds Murray, "give them the room to come to their own conclusions."
It would be fairly easy to ignore the message behind LAL's brand of aural advocacy, which is a testament to how well they craft their music, not a measure of the message's expendability. Between Kazi's lyrical sleights, Murray's sample mastery and the acuity of the musicians involved, LAL juggle the oft-conflicting elements expertly. They're about to launch their second full-length outing, Warm Belly, High Power, an earthy stew of brittle beats, sinewy samples and bittersweet vocals. The album operates at the nexus of soul, dub and what could be described as triphop. And although years have passed since their breakout kitchen-sink classic, Corners, LAL haven't lost sight of what they built before.
"We tried to keep the album as minimal, as wry as possible, to keep it more relevant to the first one," Murray explains. I'm not sure what he means since Warm Belly, High Power is a much fuller album, more realized than the first.
"It's true. We had more to work with this time. In a way, I guess I'm just attached to the aesthetic of a reduced palette. I was taking these masses of elements and distilling them down."
If anything, Murray's musical reduction heightens the massive otherworldly effect of the album, driving the arrangements into nearly cinematic spheres, ruled by their own physics, the pictures Kazi paints with her words and the broody timbre of her voice. It's a fresh sound but one that draws a steady line back to the subtler provocateur traditions of dub and reggae.
"Lyrics are probably the easiest tool for dropping a message," says Kazi. "But I try to avoid sounding forced or heavy-handed. It's better if you can hint at meanings and let the listeners travel the rest of the distance themselves."
She sums it up. "If you really want to change people, if you want to change their mindset, you can't scream at them. Good music is the persuader, not doctrine."