Sing Leaf, aka Toronto’s David Como and friends, dwells in the verdant territory between bluesy folk and electronic. On his previous releases, which he has been creating as Sing Leaf since 2007, Como laid folk melodies over rich yet sparse synth textures, creating entrancing bedroom-produced music that is sometimes haunting, sometimes joyful.
On Shu Ra, Sing Leaf has dialed his earnest folk-rock side up a notch. Throughout the album, he mostly favors acoustic drums and clear bass lines, letting his emotive singing shine in its earnest course. Como’s voice and songwriting contain a trace of the childlike fragility of singers such as Devendra Banhart, and though it’s not always easy to pull off, here it lends the music an easy, light feeling and saves it from being overly fussy. While the youthfulness of Bahnart is at the service of playfulness in his music, however, for Sing Leaf it creates a feeling of sincerity.
That sincerity emerges particularly charmingly on the brighter, simpler tracks. On “Won’t Give Up,” which begins with a clip of someone speaking in what sounds like a concert in the Old West, a guitar plays a blues pattern while someone whistles in the background. Though other, more droning sounds subtly fill in the music, the primary focus is the traditional blues theme narrated in the lyrics: “Girl, it just ain’t the same with you gone / So honey won’t you come home please.” Though he uses a well-worn trope, Como makes it sound as if it actually comes from the heart as an original idea.
But not all of Shu Ra is light and sunny. Some of the tracks carry dark undertones that oscillate between haunting and sensual. On the first track, “Put It On Me,” a deep, driving bass line and high, repetitive synth line form the majority of the accompaniment for a soulful song about the addressee’s “magic touch.” The bridge brings in a fast, reverberating clip of a woman chanting quickly in rhyme—a surprising little alien visitation at the start of an otherwise fairly earthly album.
More otherworldly souls visit the album later in one of its other dark tunes, “Black Water,” in which a muted voice repeats, “help me” (or something hard to make out that resembles it). Starting with a seemingly Indian-influenced repetitive riff, the song opens into a blues-rock melody with shadowy undercurrents. Though a few of the lines are clunky (“Now the walls are shaking with the sounds / Of the disembodied limbs clapping hands for you”), it's a hypnotizing groove that creates the vibe of the mystical story it tells.
It’s a strange album that can seamlessly make the transition from a spirited country-western speech to dark, otherworldly blues in consecutive songs—and it’s even stranger considering the other stops along the way, including the slow rock ballad “Wasting My Time,” with a ‘70s vibe, and the echoing “Do Right,” with its U2-circa-“With or Without You” feeling (before all soured on them and long before they forced their music onto our iPhones). Because of Como’s voice and the tunes and words he sings, which are related despite their varied contexts, the album flows together. Once again, Sing Leaf has planted a strange blend of seeds and harvested some delightful fruits.