Music for Music: Alev Lenz
Alev Lenz: Soul to Soul
By Dan Ursini © 2019
Alev Lenz is a German-Turkish pop singer-songwriter with a huge gift for orchestrating connections—among musicians, within the music itself, and between the composer and the listener. She has surfaced through important songwriting collaborations with the likes of sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar on the Grammy-nominated “Land of Gold.”
Her music is used in programs like Dark and Black Mirror.
She is a composer with exceptional vision and drive. The newly released album “3” documents her capacity for artistic innovation that illuminates the truth of her music and deepens her connection with her audience. It has a dozen songs, written mainly for voice, many under two minutes. The whole of it offers the listener an abundance of audacious musical ideas.
Lenz’s innovations start with the structures of the songs. Many pop composers are happy to take a song idea and finesse it into a conventional format. But with Lenz, the ideas come first; then the song’s form is shaped to enhance the message. This is not easy. Yet Lenz maintains, “I just LOVE the art of the song. And I am determined to deliver a song that holds and honors its meaning, that speaks in the form it needs to speak from.”
The music on “3’ shows her approach can have brilliant results. “The Runner” is composed of two radically different sections that, through deft arranging, share a strong sense of momentum. Here and elsewhere, Lenz does the lead vocals. The backgrounds are shared by Lenz along with the vocal group Roomful of Teeth. Lenz’s arranging is just as ambitious and inventive as her songwriting. The singers perform flawlessly.
A highlight of the album is “The Chair,” which is propelled by the tension between Lenz’s highly controlled vocal and the wild freewheeling background vocals. It is exceptionally fresh and powerful. Like many of Lenz’s songs, it has a video that is a remarkable two-minute dramatic adaptation of themes from the lyrics.
Songs built around an elaborate repeated melody, slowly paced, are a daunting challenge. So I am especially impressed by the mesmerizing “Splendid Soldiers.” It has a graceful, serpentine melody, with a vocal that is quiet, composed—yet incredibly intense.
Here and elsewhere there is a sonic ambiguity, an eeriness, that is a hallmark of Lenz’s music—which explains the compositions’ use in TV shows that entertain the supernatural and the speculative. Yet that quality is a component of a rich and varied harmonic sensibility that speaks to the timeless gray areas of the human condition: those disturbing stretches of unknown territory in our private lives. Lenz shows courage in extending the tonal palette of pop music in risky and truthful directions.
The lyrics of “Splendid Soldiers” are highly personal, fragmentary and layered. They are best understood as they come to you here and there over a period of time. That may be what Lenz hopes for, since it extends the life of her music in your mind. She says, “What a gift to be busy with crafting little lines and melodies for people to carry with them. What a beautiful way of being connected through time and space.”
What contributes most to making the album a triumph is Lenz’s voice. Its tone tells a story of living through an ordeal, one that has pushed the singer to the absolute limit. Positioned at the edge, she yet maintains complete composure, displaying impeccable phrasing and timing. Lenz conveys the whole spectrum of response to life in a crucible: anger, sharp wit, and desperation; tenderness and warm longing; and an invincible determination to connect. Be ready to experience a soul-to-soul connection.