Moda Spira – Moda Spira
Latifah Phillips has had her hands full the past few years. Her work with bands like The Autumn Film, Page CXVI, and SOLA-MI has given her and her bandmates a platform to appeal to a wide variety of audiences (particularly with the focus of Page CXVI being solely on reimagining hymns). These outlets, however, aren’t ideal for more personal songwriting. Her desire to not treat love as dualistically as modern music does led her to evaluate how it should be appreciated for all its complexities. Mirroring her own relationship with her husband and bandmate Reid Phillips, as well as personal turmoil, Latifah Phillips has put together a solo record under the moniker Moda Spira. Her self-titled album is an impressive collection of sonic ideas ranging from indie pop to R&B that all address an often overlooked question: what do we talk about when we talk about love?
Moda Spira begins with “She Whispers”, a fairly haunting track backed by subtle keyboards, electronic percussion, and layers of beautiful synth work. Phillips’ vocals are smooth and captivating as she sings about the dichotomy of fear and hope amidst the backdrop of night and day with lines like “When the day is swallowed, and your chest is hollow, Your defenses down, She is the loudest sound… How she whispers”. It’s one of the best songs I’ve heard all year, and listeners will find themselves continually coming back to it. Following track “In the Fight” also stands out primarily for its vocal production. Multiple layers of vocal harmonies sound vocoded, coming across as a mix of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” and Coldplay’s “Midnight” as she sings “Will you really love all of me, when you see, the darker things that lie underneath, me, My demons are coming out”. Building synthesizers lead into triumphant percussion work near the end of the song, making for an enjoyable listen. “Playback” finds Latifah telling her significant other to “Hold your wicked tongue” and “I’ve got it in my mind, rewind, playback… the words you say will echo baby” as she urges caution with his words and their power. More vocal harmonies and sweeping synthesizers contribute to an enjoyable listening experience. “We Hold On” starts out with a slightly warped harp line, but when the chorus comes in, we’re treated to a hip-hop-like percussion line and more synthesizers. The contrast between the instrumentation and the lower register of Latifah’s voice is quite nice, as she vividly sings of enduring conflict with her significant other. The lyricism is personal and makes for one of the best songs on the record.
“Shaking the Walls” is backed by triumphant pop-like drums, subtle guitars, and underlying synthesizers that mesh together flawlessly to create this lush soundscape where Latifah expresses how the presence of unconditional love in a relationship can help break down the walls that prevent a couple from connecting with one another on a deeper level. “Bet On Me” follows in an R&B-like manner, as Latifah’s vocal harmonies blend together with subtle guitars and soft percussion as she sings “Troubled waters rise and fall, but I know we can make it”. It doesn’t feel out of place with the diversity of the other tracks, and closes out the first half of the record nicely. “The Hard Way” is a piano-driven ballad about growing and healing in a relationship. Impressive production is the backdrop for Latifah’s soothing vocals as she sings “All I want to do is be here with you, With all your edges on display”. It’s slightly similar to its predecessor, but it’s a beautiful song, nevertheless. “What You Need” is lyrically similar, but comes across as more soulful as its instrumentation primarily relies on piano and vocal work is done in a way that is reminiscent of slow jazz, albeit not entirely as the end of the song features Latifah’s voice layered with itself to create a choir-like effect. It’s impressive in itself and a memorable part of the record.
After a brief, classical instrumental entitled “Stillness”, the listener is treated to “Remember Love”. The longest song on the album, it’s definitely of a cinematic nature as it starts out with Latifah’s voice and piano as she sings about despair and how to fight through it with lines like “Remember love, no war’s outrun, what’s done is done… what once was lost, can still be sought”, but continues to be expanded upon until a triumphant orchestra comes in halfway through and drives the song home with the bridge’s corresponding lyricism: “We wait on night to pass into day, as we cast our eyes on this sea of grey, we won’t lay down in early graves this time, there may be a day ahead, when man will bend to the night’s dark end, we won’t lay down in early graves this time”. This juxtaposition of hopelessness and survival speaks the loudest of any of the songs on the record and drives the point home with full force. “We Belong” is another piano-driven cut that also touches upon the distress of love and how support and affection outlasts conflict. Latifah sings “I don’t really know why our hopes dissolve, how pain can make us lose our own resolve… and I, will try, try my best, to hold the line, ease your mind from distress, We belong to one another’s arms, We belong together tethered strong, We belong”. From a musical standpoint, it’s like a more-accessible version of its predecessor, and added male vocals in the bridge from collaborator Aaron Strumpel act as the connection between the track’s musicality and its lyricism. Closing track “Thread the Needle” begins with slight distortion and swelling low-register, synth-like bass that alternates between a straightforward and swing-like groove as Latifah sings “Where the road dead ends, That’s where our hearts must bend”. It’s musically similar to tracks like “Bet On Me” and “The Hard Way” with its modern R&B feel, but works quite well as the album’s closer.
Moda Spira approaches love in music with a precision I haven’t experienced in many bodies of work. Whereas pop music seldom relies on the personal details of a relationship, instead selling the listener on one-night stands and the empowerment of ending a relationship, Latifah Phillips has crafted 12 songs that portray monogamy as both an abundance of devotion and a war worth fighting. This record reminds us that love, and all its complexities and sharp edges and nuances, is more than just attraction and romance. At its worst, it’s a growing opportunity. At its best, it’s the greatest thing one could ask for, and quite frankly timeless. Everywhere else, it’s a reason to get up in the morning and extend our gratitude to someone we believe truly deserves it. Unconditional, self-sacrificing, complicated, endangering, worth your time, love is all of these things and more. However that looks for you, whoever that correlates to in your daily life, let Moda Spira resonate with you on your journey.