Available on vinyl from Mint Records
2nd album by Kellarissa
Larissa is a Moon of Neptune.
Previously unreleased essay by Larissa:
Moon of Neptune
Larissa is a moon of Neptune. She is the fifth-closest of Neptune’s 13 moons. Her orbit “is circular but not perfect [...] so it is slowly spiralling inward due to tidal deceleration and may eventually impact Neptune's atmosphere, or break up into a planetary ring” (Wikipedia).
This fact, like many others related to the making of “Moon of Neptune”, the second solo album by Larissa Loyva, achieved relevance after the titular song was written. Loyva personifies herself in the satellite, confessing that she is “oblong in shape” with an erratic yet persistent path, wondering “how soon before I’m in ruins,” referring to the cliched downward spiral of self-destructive behaviour.
The album was recorded in June to November of 2010 at the tail end of a 7-year relationship, the songs having been written over the past few years. A reference to Loyva’s favourite band Pulp hides in the mid-song breakdown and play on words in “Moon of Neptune”:
If only I had a tape recorder. Record her.
Clean mister, clean missed her.
The last phrase is a quote from Pulp’s song “Tunnel” (1985), a sprawling 8-minute portrayal of a descent into madness, perhaps after a nasty breakup or emotional breakdown. At the time “Moon of Neptune” was written, the Pulp tie-in was just an inside joke, without much thought given to the subject matter of “Tunnel”.
Loyva initially addressed her drinking in the first song on Flamingo (2008), “I’ll Sing of Kings”:
I’ll drink to you, I’ll drink to health
But I know I’ll drink to death.
Loyva then questioned the effect of her alcoholic tendencies on her life and on the relationship in “Passages”:
Carrying music, holding my alcohol.
My body’s a vessel or nothing at all.
The lyrics allude to “living in darkness”, yet wanting to “go towards the light” in an effort to cajole herself out of this depression, sensing that an end was near. It was during this time that Loyva explored an interest in Ancient Egypt and the pyramids at Giza, and the lyrics reflect her hope to catch a glimpse of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
“Undock” is literally about watching the space shuttle undock from the space station. It was a moment shared with Loyva and her partner, “sitting in a schoolyard on a summer night”. The ensuing lyrics muse on the nature of orbiting satellites, distance, and freedom. In hindsight, it also foreshadows the dissolution of the relationship. While she was content in the relationship, perhaps she was experiencing an underlying need to cut herself loose and experience the weightlessness of space, so to speak, and “complete detachment”.
Loyva withdrew into a self-imposed exile from partner, friends and family. In some ways it was to her detriment, but in the end, she accepted that, while we can be completely committed to another human being, we are always completely autonomous. Perhaps it is in this cutting of ties and reevaluating that we can rebuild our relationships into healthier, more stable ones where grudges and resentment have no place because we have a better sense of self-awareness and of where we stand within the relationship.
Further references to the heavens abound in a choice to cover a song by Sun Ra, a jazz musician and cosmic philosopher. “Satellites Are Spinning” is an exercise in music theory. The “verses” of the song are sung in harmonies of augmented chords, while the “chorus” is sung in diminished chords. Sun Ra’s original recordings/performances are rather loose; Kellarissa reinterpreted the harmonies to suit her own aesthetic of how she believes the song is technically meant to sound. The arrangement remains simple in order the emphasize the structure and harmonies.
Kellarissa also began exploring an interest in the music of the Doukhobors, a peaceful Christian sect that migrated from Russia to the Western-Canadian provinces in the early 1900s. Primarily known for the their Russian hymns and folksongs, the Doukhobors’ choral arrangements feature open harmonies of fifths and octaves, with little variance in the bass notes. This harmonic structure lends an almost chant-like feel to the music. While Loyva hasn’t employed this style to any song per se, its influence can be felt in songs like “Sisu” and “Niagara”. It is a sound she will continue to experiment with.
Loyva’s choral background shows through in the numerous repetitive chorale sections stemming from her live performances with a looping pedal. The nature of this pedal is to create and build layered loops; it doesn’t have the function to take away the layers. These loops of harmonies are recreated in the recordings towards the end of each song in “Passages”, “Moon of Neptune”, “Sisu”, and “Old Money”.
“Niagara” is another harmonic exercise. The entire song utilizes only a whole-tone scale. Written and recorded in one afternoon, the performance was captured to tape on the first take in 2007. Themes explored include literally jumping in head-first, and going with the flow:
How deep would you leap?
Would you take the plunge?
Could you take the route the river runs?
The concept of inner strength is explored in “Sisu”, a song in Finnish, about the Finns’ belief in “the ability to sustain an action against the odds; [...] deciding on a course of action and sticking to that decision against repeated failures” (Wikipedia). The idea is that “Sisu” is in all of us, personified in a creature waiting for the right moment to “grow into a magnificent being” and “leap out” (translations) when we most need it.
“Vagabond” is a song inspired by the 1985 film by Agnes Varda. (French title: Sans toit ni loi, "without roof or law".) It is about a woman who chooses a nomadic lifestyle over one of comfort and security, the kind usually found in a home and job. Loyva fancies herself a nomad of this sort in spirit, but finds herself tied to creature comforts. The lyrics explore the nature of her friendships in a play on words (“I form vague bonds”), romanticizing the ability to move on and start anew.
This song continued to be prophetic: the following year (2011) she spent a few months in Europe, quitting her job to play music and travel. There were certainly times where she felt like a leaf in the breeze. She even made a pilgrimage to Nico’s gravesite in Berlin during this trip.
The bridge section of “Vagabond” is an adaptation of a comment from James Young’s memoir “The End”. Young’s book recounts his time spent as a musician playing and touring with Nico, an artist from whom Loyva continues to draw inspiration. Loyva paraphrases Young’s musings on this time in his life:
When you think someone’s just a phase in your life,
Maybe you’re just a phase in theirs.
This song is an attempt to come to terms with the way we make connections with friends and lovers, and the importance they might place on the relationship, noting that they might not view it in the same way. Loyva’s worst fear in a relationship is that people’s feelings do not share the same intensity, and is easily scared off by people to whom she cannot respond with reciprocity.
Kellarissa previously used Middle-Eastern harmonies of fourths and fifths in the song “Carrying On” (Flamingo, 2008). These harmonies are reflected in its sister-song “Blood + Sand”, inspired by the Rudolph Valentino movie of the same name from 1922 about bullfighting. The themes of sand and bullfighting meld together with the lyrics “Gore the man in the red cape”, referring to running away from a (maybe?) fictional character from Loyva’s childhood--the man in the red cape--who lurked in the gully surrounding her elementary school in the 1980s.
An anecdote: The melodies of the keyboards and vocals are also inspired by Shuki Levy’s music for the 1981 Egypt-set horror film “Dawn of the Mummy”. The delayed relevance of Loyva’s themes resurface again, as it turns out Levy scored music for the popular TV shows of her childhood, including "Inspector Gadget" (1983), and "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" (1983).
Loyva plays upon the meaning of her last name in the Finnish song “Flatlands”. Löyvä, the proper Finnish spelling, means “flat”, referring to landscape. The translation reveals honeybees and birds flitting about from flower to flower in a field. The bees do not know that their numbers are dwindling, but we do. Bees are searching for their hivemates but they cannot find them. Our need for them grows stronger by the day.
“Old Money” was one of the first written in this batch (note a lyrical nod to a favourite band at the time, Beach House). While the themes of inheritance and greed are fantasy constructs for the sake of a pop song, the themes of independence from/dependence on family are real conflicts Loyva tries to address here.
Don’t disown me; you’re my family.
You don’t owe me, you don’t know me.
The Artwork: Loyva had owned Helen O’Neill’s biography of Florence Broadhurst (Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret & Extraordinary Lives, Chronicle Books, 2006) for a few years before sitting down to read it in the Summer of 2010. Broadhurst, an Australian graphic designer (active from the 1940s-70s), was a plucky lady who embraced life and the opportunities it presented to her. Her physical style is akin to one Kellarissa often emulates on stage, making use of her large collection of vibrant vintage polyester muumuus. One print by Broadhurst jumped out from the pages as the only possible option for album art. Pyramids is a satisfying optical illusion that perfectly sums up the contents of the record. It also ties nicely to the artwork for her first album, Flamingo, which is a photograph of a screen print obtained from a thrift store.
It seems as though Loyva dealt with or addressed a lot of her relationship issues before its dissolution. The recording process, which happened directly after the breakup, was painless and restorative. She immediately made the decision to be positive and to focus on the task at hand. It was just the thing she needed in order to get back on track. Kellarissa believes everything happens for a reason, and will continue to allow Fate to guide her life and music.
released March 8, 2011
Produced by Larissa Loyva & Joshua Stevenson
Cover art by Florence Broadhurst
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