With a sound akin to an unnerving nursery rhyme, Germany’s Alev Lenz wastes little time in setting the tone for her latest album, Two-Headed Girl. Strikingly honest and refreshingly unambiguous, it’s an album that literally has two heads; one bitter, one sweet, flipping between the two with rhythmic precision. Beautifully arranged instrumentals are accompanied by a vocal performance that can only be described as hypnotic. However, (almost) everything on Two-Headed Girl is built on a solid percussive foundation, made up of some of the most intricate and mesmerising percussion work you’ll hear on a pop record.
Armed with a music-box and some creeping, minor piano chords you can put a child-like fear into almost anyone. Opening track ‘Planet’ does just that. Here, Lenz announces her role as storyteller, the sound of her parting lips preceding a fairytale based, not on the supernatural or legend, but on real life; emotions, love and disappointment (much scarier). Both heads are in action here, the bitter sentiment delivered with a real sweetness, a theme repeated so elegantly throughout the album.
Later, ‘Eggshell’ recalls those storyteller vibes, while ‘Airport‘ puts in a strong case for ‘2016 breakthrough smash-hit of the summer’. It won’t be though, cause life is full of disappointments and injustices, those little certainties of life so wonderfully laid out in this three-minute, twenty-second slice of infectious, rhythmic pop. Lenz describes it as her ‘Outkast’ song, and she’s not wrong. Honestly, I’ve lost sleep because of ‘Airport’s’ ear-worm tenacity, causing me to lie awake at night with “it was a hot, hot summer, I was cooooool” looping around my head, my surroundings morphing between bedroom and airport lounge. Yeah, it’s that catchy. Plus, for a song written from a place of real negativity and heart-break, it’s testament to Lenz’s wicked sense of humour that she presents the track in such a fun and quirky manner.
Still Two-Headed Girl, isn’t all pop hooks, in fact those tracks sit quite apart from the rest of the album’s more soulful moments. There are times on ‘If Love’ and ‘Well’ where the percussion, so central to the album, is stripped away, leaving a solo piano to accompany Lenz’s ‘sweet head’ vocals. ‘Riff No. 2’ showcases some stunning vocal runs and layered harmonies while title track ‘Two-Headed Girl’ sparkles with glockenspiel warmth, against that reoccurring storytelling-like vocal delivery.
Now, it would be easy to draw comparisons between Lenz’s vocal approach and the quirkiness of Regina Spector’s, but this isn’t a contrived style, the vocals are in perfect sync with the atmosphere and space in which they’re being presented. Credit to the triad then; Lenz’s song writing and production, the mixing of Simian Mobile Disco’s Jas Shaw and the incredible percussion work of Samuli Koskinen, each contributing to the lush and varied mix of sounds used on the album. Repeat listens reveal the actual extent of this sonic selection. Even after spin five, six and seven, like fireflies, new sounds reveal themselves for the first time, appearing and then dissipating, all to the beat of the album’s rhythmic core. It makes for an absolutely hypnotic experience.
Alev Lenz has produced a fascinating album. If the pop hooks don’t catch you on first listen, then the intrigue of its deeper moments will because, just like an enjoyable, well crafted story, Two-Headed Girl demands repeat consumption.
Two-Headed Girl is out now.