Philly singer-guitarist Liz de Lise writes arresting songs rooted in observational honesty – whatever tone they happen to take. When we first met her early this winter, the music was jazzy folk-pop, and reminded us of 70s Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro records. The project at hand was a series of monthly DIY videos completed across the course of 2015, preceded by 2014’s To & Fro – an acoustic collection based on stories the songwriter gathered from homeless youth she encountered in Portland, Oregon.

In the time since, de Lise has developed her sound into something more cerebral – yet no less catchy. As we hear in this Key Studio Session, she has two chief collaborators: Mark Watter on bass and vocals (you might know him from Rosu Lup, Caroline Reese + the Drifting Fifth, and his own band Howlish), and a tight network of effects pedals and loopers, which she works with skill and finesse (I guess that’s more of a tool than a collaborator, but you get the picture). The set swallows you in sound, with layers of vocal rounds floating alongside askew lead guitar reminiscent of St. Vincent’s Annie Clark.

The new songs range from drifting and delicate (the breezy opener “Meat From Bone”) to riff-driven and energized (“Baby” feels at once playful and taunting). The standout on this set is the rumbling, roaring “Baby Bird,” where de Lise reflects on mortality and grief – and who the act of grieving honestly benefits. As she sings: “I could not save the baby bird / I sat and cried and cried and cried / sure, I cried for this helpless thing / but I must admit I cried mostly for me.” Between the vivid imagery, sonic texture and aching melody, this might be the best song Neil Young and Crazy Horse didn’t write.

Those three selections are all from de Lise’s as-yet-untitled sophomore LP, which she aims to release in September; the closing song, “Forever,” is even newer, and its enchanting refrain conveys a sense of restlessness and frustration – “will I be so lost forever and ever and ever?” But for whatever uncertainty the lyrics betray, the music makes it clear she’s headed in the right direction.

Listen to Liz de Lise’s Key Studio Session below, watch a performance of “Baby” via VuHaus and grab a free download of the entire set on Soundcloud. de Lise plays a late set at Bourbon and Branch tomorrow night, June 23rd – meaning it’ll make the perfect come down after Mitski’s headlining show at Boot and Saddle. Get tickets and more information on the show at the XPN Concert Calendar, and check out de Lise’s fall tour dates here.

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