Lia Kohl – The Ceiling Reposes (American Dream, 2023)

I like travelling, it feels energising and important. Not just because it seems to appease the novelty-craving centres of my brain, cracking the monotonous ice rime that forms over the habitual rhythms of normal life, but also because it exposes you to other people, their culture and ways of life.  To never leave home is (to me) to die without really experiencing that whole busy world out there full of people living in so many similar, yet different, ways.

I’ve just come back from a few days in Rome, my first break away since April, and it was nice to put work on pause to be in the Sun. When I’m abroad, visiting the sites or just sitting eating dinner, I make sure to take the moments to just soak the ambience and let the environment reign. Rome is a bustling city, full of impassioned Italian discussions and car horns, zipping scooters and church bells, sunglasses and bare skin: it’s impossible to escape such a characterful place. Activity, chaotic and purposeful, is everywhere.

Lia’s burbling music, introduced to me earlier this year through the reissue of Too Small To Be A Plain (Florabelle Records), is music that seems to embrace that perspective of the whole in all its fragmentary parts. Much like how a city hums with a thousand discrete sounds that together form the patchwork quilt of its identity, so too does Kohl’s, knitted together in careful improvisation with something that might on the face of things seem random but becomes itself a sonic watermark of a place and time.

Radio fragments form the emotive heart of the record in many ways, arriving on waves of distortion in opener “in a specific room” set against staccato string chords and tolling synths establishing a peculiar sense of pathos from lost jingles and stock market updates. Weather reports crack earnestly through the kazoo and warbling cello environs of “sit on the floor and wait for storms”, and in other places like “when glass is there, and water,” it exists as nothing more than a questing static liveliness, trying to burst through the humble string sustains and birdsong.

Perhaps the standout for me is where this mulch feels the most swirling, the point where musicality and found sound and radio converge in penultimate  “become daily today”. A truck reverses, the radio flicks between unfamiliar channels as if trying to tune into the resonant frequency of the moment, and the strings surge with a growing, but playful, urgency. Together they form an acoustic wave of mindfulness, filled with a startling clarity of the now as it breaks into shimmering classical bars at its fluttering angelic conclusion, thoughts rising like voices in the street to join the clamour of the city.

Reflection and introspection also require a not insubstantial degree of extraspection. You cannot exist in a space without recognising the context of that space and your place, your role, within it. Whether you’re the tourist sipping wine in some Roman side-street, or just eating breakfast in the kitchen at home listening to the radio, life swirls around us but we’re also a part of the same swirl. It’s in finding that duality that Kohl’s music shines: living the moment and being the moment.