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A Lily - Saru L-Qamar

A Lily - Saru L-Qamar

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Phantom Limb boss and musician James Vella - aka A Lily - releases his first release for the label Saru l-Qamar, setting archival Maltese home recordings to new music for an album of nostalgic quasi-ambience and cross-generational dialogue.

From the 60’s until the modern era, it was common for Maltese families to receive reel tapes from relatives abroad. Maltese emigrés resettled in Australia, the UK, Canada etc. would record their news onto cassette - often in the form of għana, traditional Maltese song - and mail the tapes back home. Amazingly, through the superlative archival work of Malta’s nonprofit heritage foundation Magna Żmien, many of these tapes still exist. A Lily (Phantom Limb boss and musician James Vella, who is Maltese) was allowed access to Magna Żmien’s collection and in late 2022 began creating new musical works responding to these recordings. These works make up the oneiric bliss of new album Saru l-Qamar [Eng: They Became The Moon], his first release on his own label.

Arranged alongside hardware synthesis and “minimal DAW intervention”, the recordings take on ghostly, spiritual new qualities. Simple storytelling and news-sharing (“there was a burglar in the house yesterday”, “I can’t tell you how much I miss Malta”, “do your utmost to spend all your money at the feast”) become plaintive and evocative elegies for friends and family lost to time. “This is the meaning of the album title,” Vella writes. “Though these people have left us, they can never be truly forgotten, as without them we would not be here. They become part of the fabric of our lives, remaining forever and inexorably within the makeup of every subsequent generation. They have become the moon - always present, but always out of reach.”

The music and track titles of Saru l-Qamar (pronounced: sarool-’amar) fill in the gaps between the stories, with Vella’s background as a fiction writer readily evident. Though the archival recordings come as snippets - often powerfully and profoundly revealing but rarely longer than a few minutes - through subtle processing and effects (“and a lot of audio cleaning”), Vella gently moulds these generationally personal insights into musical artefacts for arrangement alongside his pulsing, organic, enlivening synthesis. The work of mastering engineer Sean McCann (Recital Records, etc.) elevates the album’s sonics to shimmering heights of carefully balanced light and dark.

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