Not a person but a band (well, a person and a band - Lisa ‘and more’), Lisa O Piu is a Swedish six-piece led by singer, song writer, guitarist and flautist Lisa Isaksson. The band’s debut album When This Was The Future is deliciously paradoxical and ironic, sounding for the most part like Kate Bush in her 1970s folk phase. This could also be a new take on the retro approach of Goldfrapp’s Seventh Tree, either of the recent Bat For Lashes albums, plus a dash of Portishead fronted by Emiliana Torrini. Comparisons aside, listening to Lisa O Piu is like entering a wonderfully unique world of folklore and perpetual autumn.
When This Was The Future opens with one of the album’s strongest songs, the swirling drama of Cinnamon Sea. From the outset Isaksson’s precise vocals and engaging tone draw you in toward the dark moody chorus. The flute (used with startling effect throughout the album) blends perfectly with the equally impressive guitar work. The central instrumental break is a highlight. The delicately beauty of Forest Echo is another early wonder with more brilliant strings. The musical interlude slows to a crawl before bringing back the flute and guitars.
The lyrics of Traitor unfold like an extended metaphor brimming with smart lyrics. “One more battle lost, before I even knew I was in it” and “…you dress almost like an officer but I thought that I was in command”. The first compelling couple of minutes transform into a different feel with time to breathe, intricate but uncomplicated. The Party starts like a 60s ballad or show tune reminiscent of early Dusty Springfield or Cilla Black. The vocal melody leads into a huge gamble. If you write a lyric like “We’re gonna play the most wonderful music you’ve ever heard” then you really have to deliver. Thankfully for Lisa O Pui the gamble pays off and the execution is exquisite. The band gets away with it in style right into the breathy last minute of flute.
Two is the nearest the album gets to prog-folk. This song has just about everything, enforcing the message of ’togetherness’. From the blended vocal/percussion opening, to the nursery rhyme twirl, what the song lacks in coherence it makes up for in ambition. To add even more to the kitchen sink, the produced vocals at the halfway point announce a subtle change as the song drifts into soft wordless vocals and shimmering strings/guitars. An interesting, if troubled, journey.
The slow deliberate poise of Equatorial Changes brings back the more subtle drama. Another great vocal arrangement, chorus and percussion. In When This Was The Future’s only instrumental, and only Swedish-titled song, Alvdans vid Kolarkojan, the composition is another piece of understated musical brilliance even without the vocal charms. This leads to closer And So On, and a final highlight. There is obvious electronica at the start and two moments of dramatic multi-layered vocals in this dystopian apocalyptic tale involving horses (an obsession for Isaksson), buildings falling like dominos and a world engulfed by rising seas. Stirring stuff right to the finish.
When This Was The Future is at its heart an old-fashioned folk album, subtle and elegant. As a band, Piu complement each other very well, with Isaksson at the core of the mystery and wonder. She never resists the chance to show off her skills as a flautist, adding extra dimensions to the formula. There is nothing mind-blowing here but the vision and the delivery alone make this an album full of sounds and textures from their unique magical world.
-- CS (for Altsounds)