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Four years after her stunning comeback Blood, Looms and Blooms, Leila returns with U&I, a set of songs that are as dense and direct as her previous album was elaborate and enveloping. Everything is pruned and streamlined, from her sonic palette to her list of collaborators: instead of a cast of characters that ranged from Terry Hall to her sister, Leila sticks to working with Mt. Sims, who also took the Knife and Planningtorock's music in similarly experimental directions. Coming after the eclectic flourishes of Blood, Looms and Blooms, the rawness of "Activate, Pt. 1"'s thudding electro-punk and murky vocal collages like "In Consideration" are something of a shock, and perhaps even a little disappointing. However, Leila has never pursued a linear career, and her refusal to make the same music from release to release has allowed her far more options than more predictable artists. As U&I unfolds, Leila's partnership with Mt. Sims settles into a more understandable groove: her productions decorate and elaborate on his blunt vocal outbursts and gain urgency from them, particularly on the driving "Welcome to Your Life" and "Colony Collapse Disorder," where buzzing and squealing electronics mimic a frantic hive-mind. "(Disappointed Cloud) Anyway" even nods to Blood, Looms and Blooms' subversive pop instincts in its own way, and on later tracks, Leila's ear for detailed arrangements resurfaces, particularly on instrumentals like "Eight," "Boudica," and the whimsical album closer "Forasmuch," all of which may provide a gateway to the album's charms for fans unsure of what to make of its abrasiveness. Ultimately, U&I's brashness is more intriguing than confounding, with a freshness that reaffirms Leila as a thoughtful and challenging producer.

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