Sunday, November 28, 2021

Leslie Winer’s Music Was a Mystery in 1990. She Still Likes It That Way.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

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The new collection emphasizes how effectively Winer mashed up genres and approaches: the slow trip-hop of the era, breakbeats, the New Orleans’ funk band the Meters, samples of Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf and the words of the poet Charles Bernstein. “Tree” samples a jaunty Irish jig, chopped and layered so it buzzes like an Indian drone. Winer’s delivery — drawled yet quick, with a smoker’s rasp and acerbic tone — was nothing like the fast-talking slam poets of the era, instead hewing closer to the dry delivery of her mentor, Burroughs.

Winer often lifted passages from other writers, quoted other songs and applied her own dreamlike logic to it all, making something at once eloquent, blunt and cryptic. The monologue at the heart of “N 1 Ear,” for example, draws on a famous Gil Scott-Heron line and a women’s liberation broadsheet she found in London, ending on a powerful statement all her own: “I didn’t hit you, baby/When I hit you, you’ll feel it.”

Jah Wobble, who played on the songs destined for “Witch,” said it was clear the music wasn’t geared for the masses. “It was obviously more an art record than a commercial type release,” he said. “Once I finished the session, that was the last I heard about it. I assumed it was shelved.”

Winer kept making music in the years after “Witch,” working with the trumpeter Jon Hassell, the early sampler adopter Holger Hiller and another model turned musician, Grace Jones, before relocating to rural France and focusing on raising her five daughters. Over the years, a new generation slowly came to her music.

“It was at once familiar and completely new to me, a rarity to find,” the electronic producer Maxwell Sterling, who recently worked with Winer on a track for his latest album and an upcoming Tim Buckley cover, wrote in an email. “Each of her words hang in the air and react to rhythmic and harmonic information within the music, which never ceases to move me.”

Recently, Winer has collaborated with a new generation of producers, her low growl of a voice deepened and weathered with time. “I like doing vocals on other people’s tracks,” she said. “They’re like puzzles.”

Asked how to describe her writing style later via email, Winer wrote back: “I don’t see myself having to describe it.” She added, “It carries information that we don’t exactly have words for.”


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