The intimate strangeness of Portland’s Lisa/Liza, stripped down on new album, “The First Museum”

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Liza Victoria is a musician who demands to be paid attention to. Not because she’s doing anything flashy or flamboyant in performance; quite the contrary, she’s a focused, intense figure on stage, generally performing her long, poetic songs solo. It’s that intimacy that makes you want to look at her and listen.

“I don’t really put a barrier between myself in the audience, I don’t really feel it’s needed,” said Victoria, known on stage and on record as Liza/Liza. “I usually am so spaced out on playing my songs that the audience doesn’t get to me too much. It takes a lot of focus.”

Liza Victoria is, at 25, an already prolific songwriter. Since 2012 she’s released six Lisa/Liza albums of varying length and level of experimentation, from her folky home recorded demos in 2012 to the psychedelic collaboration with Matt Lajoie of Herbcraft, “Vanity Window,” one 35-minute song cycle released earlier this year.

Her new album as Liza/Liza, “The First Museum,” is at once a step forward for the young songwriter and a return to her roots. Crisply produced by Peter McLaughlin and released on his new Pretty Purgatory label, it eschews nearly all of the fuzziness and experimentation of some of her earlier albums and instead focuses solely on three things: voice, guitar and words.

“I think it’s something I always try to bring out in my live performances, that kind of basic experience of just my voice and a guitar,” said Victoria. “For this record in particular I wanted the emphasis on the songwriting, maybe more than I have in the past. I wanted to be really present in my songs this time. On past albums I have had more interest in atmosphere.”

lisa:liza first museumLyrically, on the album Victoria explores those knotty, raw corners of human emotion — loneliness, feeling as though you don’t belong, heartbreak, fear — in a way that’s at once strange and entrancing. Like Syd Barrett navigating his own fragile mental state, or Bonnie Prince Billy, a.k.a. Will Oldham, grappling with mortality, or Joanna Newsom constructing a weird, beautiful symbolic world, Victoria takes her own sadness and solitary outsider-ness and creates her own unique aesthetic around it, sung in a hypnotic, fragile soprano and accompanied by carefully strummed, simple guitar.

Victoria, a native of southern Maine, starting writing songs and playing guitar late in high school. Her siblings schooled her on the music that would later inspire her.

“With them I learned about and fell in love with the classics like the Beatles, Billie Holiday, the Staple Singers, Sam Cooke, Lead Belly, Bob Dylan, stuff like that,” said Victoria. “It wasn’t until a little more recently that I really got into folk music I guess, mostly because I found it to be a sort of root for a lot of the artists that really struck me as meaningful.”

“The First Museum” is the second of five albums to be released on Pretty Purgatory; it’s available to stream or download on Bandcamp. For more information, like Lisa/Liza on Facebook.

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, UMaine graduate, proud Bangorian and a writer and editor for Bangor Metro Magazine, the Weekly and the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food to all the cool things going on in the Greater Bangor area. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra. She's interested in everything that happens in Maine. Albums for review are accepted digitally only; please no CDs.