Sinjin Hawke & Zora Jones
[Planet Mu; 2018]
What is “maximalism”? The question is a vexed one, but the medium of music may help clear it up:
Whatever it is, it was once very much out of fashion in alternative music circles enthralled only by authenticity. But those days are long dead, buried deep in the shady crevasses of the uncanny valley, with the rise (and rise and rise and rise) of the “post-rave” aesthetic well and truly dawned and casting long shadows over the landscape.
Vicious Circles drinks from that hyperreal well. It bears more than a passing kinship to PC Music, but situates itself somewhere in the middle of PC’s opposing poles of lashings of syrupy kawaii, facing down experimental in-your-faciness. Fractal Fantasy, Hawke and Jones’s label/platform, creates 3D environments that are the pristine face of body horror and the video game aesthetic, like a paradoxically updated version of the 80s future fantasies beloved by the vaporwave kids. Both artists have a penchant for collaborations — Hawke’s including vogue/ballroom legend MikeQ and Kanye West, and Jones’s most notable being with Jlin.
So it’s all about the tendrils and tentacles, and they twine together in the tough, shiny tunes on Vicious Circles. In the past, Hawke has mined a vein combining intense-but-cerebral dance music with a certain melodrama and architecturality that’s atmospherically, if not sonically, reminiscent of post-rock — as on 2017’s stunning “They Can’t Love You.”
Developing this vein into weirder territories, one of Vicious Circles’s highlights is the ultra-dramatic “God,” which mutates a Bulgarian choir sample into a catchily deconstructed hook with an orffully Orffian impression. This unexpected juxtaposition brings two genres into a relationship that coaxes out and reveals something in each that existed before, but invisibly. In doing so, it reflects the organic chromium aesthetic of their project.
Ironically, this maximalist work can feel a little slight elsewhere, a little “instrumental” — not an EP, not yet an album. But then emotive closer “And You Were One” flutters, hiccups, and coos its mercury tears into your system… intravenously.