REVIEW: ALI BELETIC ~ LEGENDS OF THESE LANDS LEFT TO LIVE

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Not counting that one time I sat in traffic for four hours driving home to LA from Las Vegas, the first time I really visited “the desert” was 2012 in Tucson where I visited the Saguaro National Park, and I fell in love. The desert, specifically the Sonoran desert is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been, desolate, silent, dead, there should be nothing there and yet it’s full of quiet life. There’s a serene brutality to the desert where life lives on the blade of a knife balancing in a stasis above death. Ali Beletic’s long in coming debut album Legends of These Lands Left to Live balances similarly, teetering between beauty and brutality.

There’s no required reading to help you understand Beletic’s music, the powerful guitar and breathy vocals do it all, but understanding who she is and where she comes from colors the music in a rich and pleasing way. Known mostly for her work as a visual artist, Ali cut her teeth during her early 20’s in New York during a period where art in Brooklyn was flourishing with artists, musicians, and writers all commingling producing work with and for one another, it was reminiscent of the Hotel Chelsea as Patti Smith describes it in Just Kids.  Then Ali and her boyfriend Seth Olinsky of Cy Dune and Akron/Family, moved out into the Sonoran Desert in Arizona for a year to focus on new work. Beletic spent her time communing with nature, understanding that balance between us and what it means to actually survive in the world. It was while out there that she began working on large scale art installations and sculpture that incorporated nature with human constructions often using light. Beletic and Olinsky founded Lightning a culture mag/record label/artist collective. It was also while out in the desert that she recorded the beginning of what would eventually become Legends of These Lands Left to Live. Though it was finished and received touching up in Los Angeles, this album is a product of her time out amongst the cactus and critters of the American Southwest.

Legends of These Lands Left to Live begins Ends of the Earth with its languid droopy pulls on the guitar that leaves tendrils dangling into your ear, it’s an arid and tumbleweed song that sets the stage for what this album at its very core is driven by, the guitar. The very fabric that everything is sewn together on is Beletic’s guitar, violent, gentle, lethargic, occasionally her vulnerable airy vocals will pull the focus, and thundering drums have their moments, but Legends… is nothing without that guitar striking at the speakers. Stone Fox is the highlight of these elements coming together with power and beauty, the drums rumbling, her vocals howling, and that bluesy guitar ripping any protective exterior to shreds. The hooks snag your mouth and reel you in.

When you think Southwestern blues this is what comes to mind, that sharpened guitar treble cutting deep banking into a Morricone spaghetti guitar. The vast arid emptiness of the desert has no sound itself but if it did Ali Beletic managed to find it here. The percussion is heavy but used sparingly, it adds this massive scale to the songs that make them feel like a showdown in the middle of an old west town, you can practically hear the wind howling through the cracks of the old wood buildings, the tumbleweed that rolls through the street is just a given. Beletic was clearly going for this gritty rough-necked vision of the west, open spaces of unexplored nature, and she found that sound beautifully.

Legends… has a stirring duality of tomboy masculinity and femininity, Beletic’s voice is airy and wafts like dust blown up but a gust of wind on an arid plain. At times she has a kind of lullaby quality like the minimal Walk The Earth, which feels designed to sooth and tame the rugged landscape to sleep. There’s a similar feeling with the album’s closing track Wild American, which takes its queues from Beletic’s gentle vocals and the reposeful guitar. Working in direct contrast to those tender tracks are songs like the uber punk rock Dead Serious with its blaring guitar, and that killer and powerful “I’m Dead d-d-d-d-d-dead Serous” lyric. Holy shit, I knew long before I heard this track that Legends… was going to be one of this years best, but that song sealed its fate as one of the best albums I’ve ever reviewed. Lit Museum is another song of high intensity helping prove that rock and roll is alive and kicking in all its loose and delightfully sloppy glory.

This album comes without any real pretension, it’s honest, and flows easily, it embodies the spirt of the undiscovered West, emotionally, spiritually, and conceptually. Ali Beletic and her collaborators have lassoed and seduced a sound that is both vintage and refreshingly original even while sticking with the familiar. Legends of These Lands Left to Live is reminiscent of the bluesy-rock sound of She Keeps Bees, or the guitar stylings of Scout Niblett, but there’s also the graceful violence of Patti Smith, and that landscape sound of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti westerns. Every note, every beat, and every vocalization on Legends… is like a brush stroke and when put all together it paints one of the most vividly visual albums you’ll ever hear.

Legends of These Lands Left to Live is out 6/17 on Lightning Records, you can find Ali Beletic at alibeletic.com.

Ali Beletic | Walk This Earth from L I G H T N I N G on Vimeo.

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