Album: Ada Lea – one hand on the steering wheel, the other sewing a garden review

by Neil Riddell

Montreal singer-songwriter Alexandra Levy’s second album sees her reflecting on life in the Canadian metropolis she was brought up in – with each of its songs representing ‘a dot on a personal history map’

The city forms the backdrop as one hand on the steering wheel, the other sewing a garden charts the highs and lows Levy, who performs under the moniker Ada Lea, has experienced within its confines.

From the first chords of opener, damn, onwards, there is a confident strut to Levy’s songwriting that contrasts sharply with the obvious emotional vulnerability displayed in her lyrics.

She reels off a lengthy list of anxieties and frustrations with modern life in the setting of an anti-climactic New Year’s Eve party, concluding, ‘I’ve had it with this place, we’re all going insane,’ to sparing accompaniment that almost marks her out as a lo-fi indie Taylor Swift.

There is greater warmth to the synth-enhanced new wave pop of can’t stop me from dying, while her vocal dexterity allows Levy to weave seamlessly between quickfire verses and stately choruses on the stylishly atmospheric partner.

Then, 17 minutes in, the reverb and eighties stylings give way to pristine, folky finger-picked bliss on saltspring. This stunningly beautiful number sees Levy chewing over an old love letter posing an ultimatum: the couple were ‘either growing apart or growing together.’ We get our answer as the song unravels in a warped haze of alienating distortion.

backyard wrestles with the simultaneously comforting and uneasy decision to ‘stay in the place you grew up,’ with the pluses and minuses knocking around the same old haunts with the same old childhood friends inevitably bring. Are we guilty of failing to appreciate what’s on our doorstep, or are we guilty of doggedly sticking around until over-familiarity sets in? Probably both.

The unhurried, textured, writer in ny, recalls any number of upper crust indie female singer-songwriters from what has been an exceedingly rich gene pool in the past decade.

She clearly has artistry and songwriting DNA in common with Angel Olsen, Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and – on the other side of the world – Julia Jacklin and Aldous Harding. It feels natural to mention such esteemed peers if only to emphasise the sheer quality of the creative and vocal prowess Levy possesses.

Even if a certain darkness is close to the surface throughout one hand… it doesn’t fully prepare listeners for the emotional gut-punch of the album’s closing brace.

violence and hurt dwell on the messy aftermath of a physically and emotionally abusive relationship: ‘Somebody hurt me badly, now I’m stuck in a rut, now I don’t know my body,’ she rues, vowing to harness the concept of ‘resilience’ should she ever face violence again.

It is a brave, searingly honest conclusion to an album whose heart-on-sleeve writer leaves the listener simply hoping a well-sewn garden and the redemption hinted at on my love 4 u is real both materialise for its protagonist. ‘All is forgiven in time, all is forgotten in time; and when the music stopped, I heard an answer.’

Check out our exclusive interview with Ada Lea in Zine 11 – details here.

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