Three years ago, Total Freedom released 10,000 Screaming Faggots, perhaps the most provocatively defining moment in a string of totalizing mixes that hog-tied culture in a progressive and cataclysmic roast. Similarly, in many ways, 2017 music is still self-seriously jigging around in the wake of Ashland Mines’s “Wrong Choice Mixfile for Versus Tokyo,” a diabolical and revelatory tome that still world-eats the entirety of vapid model-DJ culture with sheer, vivid genius. After the tumult, and through the thick of it, NON, the cross-continental diasporic experimental nation-state, ascended as the legitimate axis of necessary sonic and cultural dissent against this vapidity. The ambassadors of a musical and political insurgency, NON heralded music culture to remain vigilant against the visible and invisible cultural structures that create binaries in society and, in turn, distribute power. Given music’s flawed and deeply entangled state in relation to these systems of power, NON, in so many ways, changed everything. A futuristic music is a political music, aware of its devious responsibility for our flawed situation, relentlessly in critique of its advances — against and within cultural production but towards its dissolution, its revelation.
The complete acceleration and flattening of electronic music production — not only the various genres and subgenres of club music, but also bedroom music, lo-fi music, R&B, pop, etc. — is a situation we can’t really reconcile given our current technology. And what do we hear? How do we listen to it? After the visions of destruction, after hearing four CDJs fire mech-sounds over three Beyoncé a capella tracks pitched in ascending half-steps, after listening to James Baldwin’s “Staggerlee Wonders” read amidst explosive dust and VSTs glowing brightly inward like hot coal, can we listen? What are we feeling? Within the destruction, what intimacy does the sequencer, the sample, the synthesizer afford? After so rigorously listening to “the sounds of the future,” the sounds recede like a mirage — and where is our audio future?
Klein understands and composes to the progression of intimacy that our future is implicated within. With her early experiments, her debut ONLY, and now definitively on Tommy, the London-born, Nigerian-English artist has produced a singular work constructed with respect to, inside of, and in accessory to this futuristic intimacy. Witty and truly fun, Tommy is a covenant to how our progressive audio is elementally wrapped up in the localized moments of process: inseparable, bound. The record embraces threadbare culture and celebrates it, placing it into the flux of personal vision. Klein internalizes deeply-damaged cultural materials to arrive at a psychedelic craft that perhaps feels more advanced than the critical musics that preceded her, emphasizing not just a musical revolution, but a revolutionary music: hypnotic and visionary like Sun Ra Arkestra, effervescent and omnivorous like Yves Tumor, seductive like B2K, indomitable and brooding like Foo Fighters.
Klein’s overall production treatment has a special sound, somehow smooth but always on the verge of clipping — or not clipping, but “clipped.” You can hear digital snips and cuts pockmarked like scars on the audio material. A spectrum of glistening rainbow CD hues smeared onto asphalt grain, Tommy is introspective, chill, and tense, with a relentless buzz that recalls DJ Escrow’s wily digital noise, chilled by the concrète field recording timbre of the Macintosh microphone. The spectral, thinned-out, wraith-like sounds render her soulful voice taut, without the grime MC’s live fidelity, a layering move that abandons Mark Fischer’s assessment of Afro-futurism and Hauntology in favor of pure entanglement, the haunting of the now, the demonology of our intricacy. The result is a diffuse masterclass into the psyche of a liberated musician’s workflow that is actually experimental in its affects, its tactics, its textures.
“Prologue ft atl, jacob samuel, thisisDA, Pure water, eric sings” is a rapturous moment that invents new audio mythology while simultaneously dissolving all iconography in its encompassing sound. A true masterpiece of modern vocal music, the piece transposes an ecstatic media breakdown into celebration and, perhaps as a result, triggers a profound meditative affect. “Prologue” wields technology and instrumentalizes cascading audio flows toward utopian migration toward futuristic music. In an interview with The Quietus, Klein states, “‘Prologue’ is so intense. I was listening to that the other day and I was so triggered, it’s so intense! If you get through those first five minutes, the record’s pretty much a wrap.” The “wrap” is a massive, joyous moment that feels both avant-garde and spiritual; or, at least, one can hear an advanced communion ritual taking place in its wavelengths.
Across the EP’s acts, themes, reprises, farewells, and prologues, Klein enlivens dead sound. The rolling errant voices and rumbling pianos of “Act One” sound like stones being rubbed, knocked around, and plunked in water; yet the raw materials are animated in a gorgeous consort with soul — skipping around freely, without gravity. The drum & bass pads that proceed on “B2K” conjure an urban isolation that has become Hyperdub’s signature across its pantheon, as plodding keys gloomily circle two-second trimmed break-beats that slice the mix. It’s a dazzling display — truly strange, entrancing, out of tune, out of time.
“Everlong,” Klein’s “Foo Fighters Moment,” treats the brooding guitar strum as erratically as any other “dead sound” on record. It’s a deeply layered, unusual take, as stems of jungle breaks are shorn into the sound of photo snapshots, like an acid-worn beat from Actress’s Ghettoville. Meanwhile, a gut-wrenching, sandblasted loop trips over itself into the the mix, bellowing into monstrosity. Quite differently, “Farewell Song” is a tragic-ecstatic ballad in the manner of Sun Ra’s Lanquidity. As a lumbering, full-spectrum blip emulates the tonality of a Fender Rhodes, Klein’s voice rises and falls in the mix, nonchalantly gone like a lullaby of the next century. Samples of an argument between kin arise, revealing the audio’s damaged, knife-cut fidelity, only to trick a fade out into abrupt silence.
Tommy is exhausting, refreshing, new — a collection of neo-songs written in the dust of so many fallen artifices. Klein’s distinct compositional mindset is a celebratory riff on dark, bluesy motifs, interlocking grooves, and tactical electronic music. Sequenced and layered into an unbelievably rich audio experience, the release treats its material like 10,000 Screaming Rocks thrown into sound, brought into life for just one audio moment, as they gave themselves to be heard in their animated, accelerated state. All the while, a lone voice wanders through their chorus, toward its dissolution, its revelation — laxly riffing through the muck.