If you know anything about Basilica Soundscape, the boutique music festival that transpires every September in Hudson, New York, it’s that its organizers brand it as an “anti-festival.” It’s true: The event is a far cry from the average American music festival experience, in which the same handful of accessible, industry-supported artists perform on large … More »
Hey loser! JK, JK! Let’s pretend for a second that you’re cool enough to attend this year’s iteration of “Prole-chella,” a.k.a. the Basilica SoundScape festival in Hudson, NY—where you can enjoy a full weekend that offers “a thoughtful mix of music, visual art, and literature” for the MERE cost of a $60 pass (or $110 with camping). It’s a fantasy worth contemplating, because the fest’s initial lineup has just been revealed, and there’s quite a lot of COOLNESS to be excited about.
On the music side, SoundScape attendees will enjoy the aural experiences of heavy-hitters like Jlin, John Maus, Zola Jesus, Blanck Mass, and Protomartyr, alongside those of up-and-comers like serpentwithfeet, Priests, and more. The festival will also host readings by Darcie Wilder, Eileen Myles, and Patty Schemel, and visual art by Naama Tsabar, Emma Kohlmann, Marianne Vitale, and Jessy Draxler. That’s a lot of talent under one industrial roof!
Of course, if those weren’t enough serialized names for you, there are also lots of important people are working behind-the-scenes to make sure this year’s event lives up to its sterling legacy. Basilica Hudson’s creative directors Melissa Auf der Maur and Tony Stone have joined with editor-in-chief of The Creative Independent, Brandon Stosuy, for the sixth year in a row to program the festival, while Pitchfork editor Jenn Pelly came on as a special guest curator and Michael Renaud returned as creative director. Truly a pedigree you can trust.
Basilica SoundScape 2017 takes place September 15-17, and potential attendees are “encouraged to purchase tickets early” because, unlike all other events taking place in physical space, this one has “limited capacity” (I’m sure there’s no bias there). If you’d like to learn more about the festival, check out the full list of announced artists on a website that’s formatted slightly differently, or purchase those hot tix, I recommend clicking this link…and hoping to God you become a lot cooler by September.
(How “cool” are we talkin’? This would be a good rough goal:)
In an age when major-label artists are putting out bloated albums in an effort to rack up the most streaming equivalent units, it can sometimes feel like brevity is becoming a lost art form. But that’s really not the case outside of the pop sphere, as the releases below will attest. Most of these … More »
We named serpentwithfeet one of the Best New Artists Of 2016 on the strength of his enthralling blisters EP, a stunning work that blended elements of R&B, gospel, chamber-pop, and electronic music into one dark, unclassifiable mist. And now he’s given that sound some visuals, teaming up with directors Timothy Saccenti and Alvin Cruz, … More »
We listen to a lot of music here at Stereogum — it’s sort of our job! — and every year, we attempt to codify all of that listening through lists that take stock of what’s kept us engaged throughout. There are still a few weeks until the hectic year-end list season descends, but we’ve made … More »
Before heading into the final stretch of 2016, we’d like to once again share our favorite releases from the last few months. This list features a little bit of big (Frank Ocean, Nick Cave) and a little bit of small (Foodman, N-Prolenta), flanked with sonics both blistering (serpentwithfeet, Valerio Tricolo) and blissful (M. Geddes Gengras, Ian William Craig), pure (D/P/I, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma) and contaminated (Arca, Elysia Crampton), with comebacks (Gucci Mane), comedowns (Fennesz/O’Rourke), and comeups (Princess Nokia). There’s maybe even stuff for the kids (Macula Dog??)!
Shortlist: Tristan Perich’s Noise Patterns, Les Halles’s Transient, Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound, Lil Yachty’s Summer Songs 2, DJ Earl’s Open Your Eyes, Noname’s Telefone, Zomby’s Ultra, Angel Olsen’s My Woman, Vatican Shadow’s Media In The Service Of Terror, SunPath’s SunPath 2, Cousin Stizz’s MONDA, The Nativist’s Various Options, Delroy Edwards’s Hangin’ At The Beach, and WWWINGS’s Phoenix.
Entrails. Arca’s image is the spill-over vessel, one that tips over when filled to the brim, then rights itself. Small strands of water escape the container and flow out; each stream finds its own channel, fertilizing earth, bringing everything into becoming. The vessel could refer to the body that is spontaneously filled with illuminated music. The music finds meaning-channels spontaneously, according to the language-state of the listener. Then the vessel pops upright and is filled again, and each day it overflows. It’s a chaotic process — but one from which something always comes into being — a body of bodies — Pérdida, Girsasol, Sin Rumbo. The trauma of this is found in the melancholic timbre of the subject, located brutally between the vessel’s overflow — its spillage and fulfillment — a body spilling over itself into constant new forms. As such, there are pipes and flutes that differ in length, their various notes differing in pitch. Hence, the multiplicity and complexity of long and short, low and high tones. Although tones vary in a thousand ways, the principles of their endowment is the same. The music of nature is not an entity existing outside of things. The different apertures, turnt pipes and flutes — the snakes, the torero, the vicars — in combination with all living beings, are Arca’s sound.
Dizzyingly complex it may be, yet Composer is music at its purest and most elemental. Not just because Alex Gray’s final LP as D/P/I was the product of a subconscious, almost randomized creative process into which convention can’t possibly intrude, but because its aural fabric sounds equally subconscious. The album’s seven chaotic tracks seem to lack all extraneous coloring and texture, their careening notes amounting to pulses of unadulterated tone that fly hypnotically through the air. In fact, so minimal are these notes in tonality and timbre that frantic pieces like “Semantics” and “Ecstatics” become music in its most abstract and subliminal sense. That is, they become less performances experienced consciously by their audience, and more direct signals to the brain, manipulating and programming it from within, without listener or composer fully understanding just what the hell is going on.
Elysia Crampton Presents: Demon City
Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” Elysia Crampton’s works have always sought to exorcise the distorting traumas of erasure and repression that explode with maximalist aplomb in mainstream, subverting hypermasculinity and schema of domination in an anti-historicizing archaeology of sound drawing from diasporic erasure and muddling intersections. On Elysia Crampton Presents: Demon City, her resolve to face upright the brutal incisions of history is palpably clear even while, throughout exercises like Chino Amobi and Why Be collaboration “Dummy Track,” the humiliating, antagonistic demons imbricated with the fabric of self-expression can’t be warded off by any measure of compositional incantation. They co-arise with us, in tandem foil to our survival instinct and interdependent subjecthood. The bitcrushed demonic voices and unremitting pentatonics of Demon City are not a funhouse reflection of our present reality; they are merely what one encounters upon listening and looking closely.
Christian Fennesz & Jim O’Rourke
It’s Hard For Me To Say I’m Sorry
There’s a very special kind of sorrow in knowing that you’re wrong — the queasy taste of your own tongue, holding ground within your throat, an invisible wall of your own making that refuses to let you say what you know you need to say. With all the tension of a pregnant pause, It’s Hard For Me To Say I’m Sorry is another loaded session from old drone guards Christian Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke, but on their first dual collaboration, the two have come together in the spirit of coming apart. Scarred guitar chords and rosy synthesizers mix to form a concoction resembling a shoegaze romance distilled into pure, weightless air, as majestic and harrowing as watching a tornado unfold in slow motion. But It’s Hard For Me To Say I’m Sorry isn’t a melodrama, nor is it carefree ambience; it’s a soft, dying light, the most lush O’Rourke or Fennesz have sounded in years, not to mention the most purposeful. Its two sides unfurl in massive sound that nonetheless feels intimate and small, an eternal yet brief moment taken wincingly, in the vain hope that it might not end.
Of all the Foodman releases we in the States have yet heard, IKEIKE arguably does least to confront the senses. But don’t let that fool you: Foodman is still concerned with disrupting dance music’s elemental schemes. IKEIKE just does it in a finer way. Where Ez Minzoku, Foodman’s previous 2016 US release, was a barrage of needles, pricking and prodding at irregular intervals, this tape is elemental mercury — silvery and glinting, squirming just beyond contact. Tracks range from the off-kilter floppy-drive jitters of “Foot” to the jarring, stuttering “Erekutoro.” On each track, the groove remains futilely just out of reach. Not so on “Osoi” or final track “Kitekudesai” — the disruptions in rhythm and texture are still there, but they don’t shatter as much as they glitch. It’s subtler subterfuge than we’re used to from Foodman, but the strange details are still unmistakably his.
[Boys Don’t Cry/Def Jam]
Up to our waist in the wave of the year, we hear the parsing rush of fluids. Half-fashioned biles sneer assaultive thoughts and the phlegm of prophesied tonics promise resolve. But despondency is messy: how do we hydrate a soul? Past the flood of quiet is the pulsing throat, a blood and a voice and “what can I do to show my love?” It’s an Endless unwinding, a life in round, the soul of unity one letter at a time. It’s rain, glitter; it’s Blonde on Blond, a trans-conjugation balanced in betweens, a kiss and a twist. Like water, the voice fills the grain, washes without definition. The voice is everything, the many-gendered human soul between a static of a self’s “what’s your name?” and a universe’s “how far is a light year?” In the unbound wash is the voice. It’s Frank, a life, a soul, and it’s more than a voice; at its best, it is love.
Trans Day of Revenge
Identity is a source of political power, even as it remains tied to the structures of oppression that provide its source. G.L.O.S.S. understand this, starting from a rejection of cissexism and a police state rather than the location that these forces place them in. In the spirit of classic hardcore, transgender here is a term of resistance, and the inclusion in the community that the EP inevitably builds is structured on those terms. With sneakily catchy shout-alongs and tried-and-true d-beat at the base of this flawlessly executed piece, its unironic call for violence and call-to-action against cissexism and the police state acts all the more strongly alongside the invitation to a community of refusal and difference provided by its delirious sonics. Injecting the distinct timbre in vocals and affect that their subject positions provide to the hardcore continuum, G.L.O.S.S. says “fuck you” to respectability politics and nearly everything else while still letting the rest of us in. It’s no wonder that Epitaph, that major label icon for the young and rejected, wanted them, and it’s no wonder G.L.O.S.S. said no, but the news that they’ve broken up still comes as a sad surprise. But with this last release, they’ve suggested a path forward for hardcore and, perhaps, gotten out while the path still remained a potentiality rather than yet another overcoded node of marketable identity. Here’s to the new community.
Gucci Mane enters and exits with [La]Flare. That is, a uniquely brilliant, creative spark. A dynamic dynamite that makes rubble of your preconceptions, clearing the way for his vision. Whatever else that may be, it’s also a bridge between Project Pat and Harmony Korine, bumping perennially like suboxone or the sub-octaves of this interned artists’ interim releases’ intros and outros. Now, though, those sounds abound. Gucci Mane may not actually be a clone, but make no mistake; he has been cloned, and his clones run rap. If that feels like science fiction, then let’s drop some science on it. Everybody Looking is a litmus test for your tastes. It’s either the ultimate comeback album or your last chance to stop staring.
Ian William Craig
As water bleeds ink, Ian William Craig bleeds his voice, draws the space between recorded worlds into runs of color and incidental stains. What’s gone and what stayed still? Centres is unfinished, thrown to time, a process-album. His words say what the music had been all along, “These hands are set to lapse/ Never knowing to say when.” It’s captivating for the clarity of Craig’s voice in a brokedown choir, for the decay drowning out every moment of clarity, for the collapse of audition in the live room headspace that these songs sustain a portal to. A forgetting-machine, like us, that traces a bounding circle around listening. It contains the draw-distance geography of Mount Eerie, the gravity of Ravedeath, 1972, the field life of Will, the memory translation of An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, the quieting space of A Forgetting Place. But it will never contain you, won’t contain anything at all. Everywhere at the end of time, stretches of heart reveal themselves where before there was background noise. Everything in decay, everything in generation, on arrival and becoming. Obsessed with the drift to void, something in the way Craig’s sketches sing out their endings promises relief. Exhalation, expiration: It need not be hopeless.
In Summer beautifully sums up and condenses what Jefre Cantu-Ledesma got so right on his last two full lengths, A Year With 13 Moons and Love Is A Stream. It stutters to life with a wash of keyboards and Linndrum samples, then swings in with a gorgeous guitar melody that sounds like it’s collapsing into itself. When it finally peters out nearly eight minutes later, he segues perfectly into the field recordings and drone of “Little Deer Isle,” giving the listener respite from the noise — with a different kind of it. Replacing the textural guitar with field sounds (actual birdsong, wind rustling) makes literal on record the connection to nature that bands like Slowdive hinted at in their . If you follow this site, you by now hopefully know and love JCL’s modus operandi. In Summer offers that up in miniature as one of his finest creations.
Honor Killed the Samurai
On August 13, Ka quite literally self-released Honor Killed the Samurai. After announcing his intention to do so via social media, the Brownsville-based rapper-producer brought his album to the people, setting up on a New York City sidewalk to sell his brand new album out of the trunk of his car. In a year where we’ve endured Apple Music/TIDAL exclusives, Kanye changing The Life of Pablo 87 times, and album teases that would make the Enigma machine blush, Ka’s method feels refreshingly real. It’s with that same approach that Ka envisions himself like the titular Japanese warrior, bound by a code to live a life of morality, discipline, and integrity in a world that has none. Over simple yet affecting beats, he delivers a masterclass of rhymes and wordplay, detailing a life besieged by drugs and violence. But whether it’s the kung-fu movie-esque synth of “Destined” or the haunting guitar of “I Wish (Death Poem),” everything serves to elevate Ka’s message: There can be a salvation in it all; there can be more to life than the forces of evil that threaten to consume it. We have a word for people like this, those who by protecting others are able to save themselves. They are known as samurai.
Furiosa you are the hero who drives through Hell.
Big rig on the run.
Big booming drums.
Fire fills the air as you swerve around bombs.
Yet still you race on,
a mindless machine,
Furiosa all over bloody and gleaming.
Fearless and strong.
Furiosa gets a multi-kill,
twisting scrap meta
into metal machine song.
But we know worse is yet to come.
A psychic horror encroaches.
Furiosa get your big gun.
Evil is real and growing near.
Only you know the way out of here.
(SEASON_0) Hazard Garden
R u on the grid? (SEASON_0) Hazard Garden is the cracked asphalt underfoot in industrial wastelands the world over. The streets burn, the skyline has disintegrated: the holograms can only imitate the rubble and dirt left behind; the vision vanishes. And, still, every dying moment is a new beginning. Death2saiba, the Hazard Garden thrives, long live LILLITH双生. No fake optimism, no consummate gloss, but a gauzy, endlessly transmogrifying projection of the neofuturist self, surveying the wreckage under neon-lit skies. Maggie always said there was no such thing as society, and you can bet your candy-ass that LILLITH双生 is on that same tip right now. The vapors that linger in the air are that hard; you can feel them hit the back of your throat. Impermanence never seemed so reel.
M. Geddes Gengras
“Interior Architecture? Is that some kind of euphemism for tuckus noises?”
– my roommate
To be fair, my roommate doesn’t much like the Grateful Dead either; Interior Architecture is the futuristic, super-long “Space” session of Phil Lesh’s dreams, folding poise and precision into a barely-contained whole, like a Möbius band of liquid, steam, and light. Modular god Gengras is as new-age here as he is free-jazz, carving his own uncanny valley between ambience and expression. There’s something blissful and serendipitous about Interior Architecture; the stumbling and squelching attributes of an improvisational moment take their place in the structural mapping of a subterranean, monstrous force. It probably doesn’t help that I’m doing my listening, in lieu of the cash for a decent pair of monitors, on an old pair of Logitech™ computer speakers that emphasize the bubbly and farty parts of these four electroacoustic jammers over the undercurrent of voluminous uncertainty, from which my roommate might otherwise have reeled in the dimensional confusion I felt in moments of headphone intimacy. To steal a page from Kylie Jenner’s book, “2016 is the year of realizing things,” and in time, all of our roommates will come to vibe with the architecture of a different interior.
Why Do You Look Like You’re Dog?
Here, read this. Seriously. Leave this FEATURE and read this (it’s the same link as before, so if you were going to check, you don’t have to since I just now confirmed that they are both the same link). I’m not going to expound near as well as CYNOCEPHALUS on the subject of Macula Dog’s Why Do You Look Like You’re Dog?. All I will say on the matter is that this album is a sure-fire slam dunk. And that’s “slam dunk” as in basketball.
A Love Story 4 @deezius, neo, chuk, E, milkleaves, angel, ISIS, + every1else…. and most of all MY DAMN SELF
[Purple Tape Pedigree]
We live in a hurricane of self-serving intentions, a stormy nexus of Love Stories 4 our OWN DAMN SELVES, every body precariously positioned downwind of somebody else’s screams. Everybody’s joints hurt, predicating a drastic change in pressure. This is a Love Story 4 those who have ever been crushed by it, 4 those born in lightning storms wrapped in metal umbilical cords, 4 those who can drown it all out with electronics and memories, 4 those who’ve ever looked on in silent horror while it all burnt down, 4 those who benefit from staggering fear while being driven by their own, & 4 every1else. We all live in a fucking hurricane. This is what it looks like when there are no more walls, no more basements, no more roofs: bodies turned upward in hope, in despair, in query. Futile bodies subject now only to each other and to nature’s indiscriminating torrent. This is our Love Story. Step outside and be part of it.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
[Bad Seed Ltd.]
“While the bones of our child crumble like chalk,” Cave sings on 1997’s The Boatman’s Call, “O where do we go now but nowhere?” The stakes on Skeleton Tree are fundamentally different, however, and so is the answer to that question, which can only truly be worked out in light of actual tragedy. Cave’s excellent 2016 record traverses the dark and winding valleys of despair, eventually coming to the conclusions to the questions that The Boatman’s Call could only pose. The haunting drones and heavy cadences of “Jesus Alone” establish the album’s gravity, and the songs that follow see Cave working through his alienation as elegantly and as creatively as ever. The subtle, magnificent “I Need You” is one of the most thematically and sonically crushing songs of the year, but ultimately it is “Skeleton Tree’s” concluding mantra (“And it’s alright now”) that lights the way home.
Spanish-Harlem raised. Done stepping up. Remaining zoned-in and culturally LAWLZ. Not exactly keeping it “DRAGONS,” but just about. Princess Nokia (a.k.a. Destiny Frasqueri, f.k.a. Wavy Spice) keeps a strong-feminine presence without fabricating heterosexism or gripping nuts in your face to demand alpha dominance in 1992. There’s no screaming like in some Beyoncé/Adele/Lady Gaga joint. Nothing past the “chill point” that Katie Got Bandz, JunglePussy, or Sasha Go Hard try to push. Princess Nokia is a firm cross between Sade, Janet Jackson, and Angel Haze. Like, if “Tomboy” doesn’t make you feel fem-sexy (whether the listener is male or female), move on to “Mine;” if the EP’s title 1992 doesn’t lyrically unfold into a kaleidoscope of nostalgic signifiers, if the front cover don’t get you wearing XXL long sleeves this Autumn, if you only gotta worry about how they‘re moving, anything below your hips is a complete GREY-area while blaring Princess Nokia because life is forever happening. Princess Nokia gives hope to the future of dehydrated MCs, so pay close attention to reality.
serpentwithfeet: the name of the project itself is allusive enough, drawing on a plurality of meaning — evolution, original sin, self-acceptance, sex as a slimy, holy communion, etc. blisters is less scored than strung up, reminiscent of sadomasochistic liaisons, the soundtracks for Sirkian melodramas, and strange fruit swaying in the breeze. Just the same, Josiah Wise’s method is florid and ripe, bruised and bruising. “How can I touch somebody who won’t even touch themselves?” he asks on his debut EP’s centerpiece, Jacob and the angel wrestling within, etiologic forces winnowing away the distractions of the modern world, until only the most elemental truths remain, a clean-chiseled tablet excavated from under eons of dirt, diary entries cut and arranged into a perfect chapbook of poems, a symbolic narrative that dresses itself up in the arcane and unknowable, and yet stands, unmistakably, as a totemic reminder of birthrights given and rescinded, and of the distances we Canaanites have travelled in exile and on the long roads back home.
Valerio Tricoli has amassed one of the most frightening discographies in contemporary music. Each of his albums contain something like 20 genuinely uncanny “is the void in my speakers” moments. 2014s Miseri Lares brought us again and again to that place — groaning doors, knocks, unknown tongues, whispers — all hurtled our way, whipped deep into our psyches with the intense, achy clatter of his signature Revox tape-looping technique. If Lares was a turn inward, a pathological scrutiny of Tricoli’s and our own deeply embedded fears and anxieties, then Clonic Earth, this behemoth of a record, is the glaring, crackling vision of all outside, our sight cataract over with a foggy, knowing patina of existential dread. It’s an undistillable polyphony of voices, myths, ideologies, beings; it sounds like something living, a real other-world. There’s something else uncanny, though, in how easy it is to take; there’s something sweet, shiny. Maybe it’s Bill Kouligas’s progressively slicker, smarter, and winkingly digestible cover design. Or maybe it has something to do with the thrilling, chilling, flash-bang-boom blockbuster mastery this thoroughly experimental, enormously honest artist has over composition and sound itself.
Post-hyphy’s national radio rise circa “Tell Me When To Go,” West Coast rap has dug its roots further south, away from the Bay Area and back to L.A. And now, in 2016, the roots have been set for a minute, and there’s a circle of rappers hanging around the canopy. When placed alongside untitled unmastered, Blank Face, and Prima Donna, Still Brazy comes from a different, historically concrete place. Like Young M.A. making “real” New York music with New York help, YG is making music synonymous with Los Angeles, specifically Compton, doing it with artists in arm’s reach physically (Slim 400, Nipsey Hussle) and in the industry (Lil Wayne, Drake, who both stick out like a Midwest cold sore). With West Coast walk-nice drive-slow funk, direct-line analog synth creeps, and swirls like it’s 1992, Still Brazy is an IV bag of bool, balm, bonfidence.
Something about Young Thug saying there’s “no such thing as gender” maybe hinted at it (not to mention allegations that he was, in fact, changing his name to “No, My Name is Jeffery”), but I don’t think anyone was fully prepared for the drop of one of Young Thug’s wildest, most ambitious tapes of his career. Beyond looking like the most insane Tekken showdown of the new millennium, the mixtape again proves that Young Thug can turn any beat into a classic, a hydrodynamic form within the holding space around him. He’s like water in that way: formless, shapeless, spitting every line with an eternally unpredictable flow. “RiRi” and “Future Swag” are Thug at his radio finest, with trap hooks as tight as anything from his career so far, while bonus-track ender “Pick Up the Phone,” perhaps a bit polished next to cuts with dead gorillas for names, still shows Jeffery having fun with it.
[Tri Angle; 2016]
Around the time that The Life Of Pablo and Coloring Book dropped, online music media began touting the advent of a neo-gospel revival, citing the direct influence of gospel in the production style and lyrical testimonials in the aforementioned albums. The answer to whether or not spirituality is present in contemporary music is a non-starter; the question, rather, is how a contemporary pop spirituality might look.
serpentwithfeet — the project from Baltimore-bred, New York City-based artist Josiah Wise, a staple in New York’s queer music scene — is exhaustively spiritual in content, from its original sin-referent moniker to its frothy vocal testimonials and paganistic lyrical symbolism. Yet “God” is never named, not as a Father nor as a Ghost; rather Wise addresses an unnamed “you” throughout blisters, a fluid placeholder for the recombinant body of a lover, a child, a kindred, an other-becoming-self, a natural phenomena. Sonically, Wise’s productions (assisted by the dark sorcery of Tri Angle labelmate The Haxan Cloak) are as paganistic as his lyrics, constituting an irreducible mesh of deterritorial post-club refuse and heavily contextualized, historicized generic tropes from gospel, R&B, and classical. The narrator testifies atop these modes as from beyond the psychic gulf of a relationship-seeded trauma; at other times, they speak as from within it or before it. This play of narrative tense and slippage of roles, in a tandem gesture to the record’s merger of historicized genre performance with ahistorical “noise,” scaffolds the skeleton of a precarious spirituality, paradoxically embodied in the competing impulses of self-preservation and yearning for dissolution into the psyche of an other.
Production advances in the vein of what Tiny Mix Tapes’s Matthew Phillips called the Neo-Futurist aesthetic reframe percussive sounds less as fixed elements in a pattern evincing the shape of “drum kit” or “drum pad” and more as a series of hitherto unidentifiable shapes merging and recombining across a spatial plane. Snares impact with infographicality, not as a stick on a skin or as a finger on a pad, but as the just-now piquing outlines of a volatile ecosystem under observation. Blistering merges eco-spatial percussive terrain, orchestrated with swells of wet synthetic string and rattling, arrhythmic industrial noise, with the elliptical narrative playing out in Wise’s classically-trained, gospel-style testimonials and electro-baroque instrumentation. No single element or mode here is transcendent; disparate spiritual models are “flickering, unraveling” as percussive schisms impact and then retreat to a looming vantage point, a silent watchful presence that affirms the performativity of performance itself.
When the opening titular track breaks down into a mournful, descending vocal refrain, wordless atop the stomp and clap of human bodies, it evinces the distinct poignant sweetness of human catharsis, of ongoing survival. Yet this moment does not exist merely for itself; it plays in the eye of an Other, a godlike machination beyond our ability to control or perceive in full. The track’s extended coda section, buoyed by the spatialized whirr of an unidentified metallic engine, posits the traditionally Christ-attributed power of “forgiveness” as a natural force acting in-and-through-itself: “The darkening of the leaves has come/ Forgiveness has not forgiven it.”
Similarly, the frail symbiosis that frames “flickering” threatens to decay and dissolve: “I’m starting to feel the cord between us two is made of gossamer.” The track’s orchestration uncomplicates, as the narrator’s devotional (and ambiguously spirituo-romantic) resolve comes into focus, culminating in a coda section that calls up generic tropes of full-throated, arms-aloft gospel testimony, but that Wise undermines with the ambiguity of the addressee: “My heart is strong/ My will as strong/ Take this body as yours/ Don’t let me doubt you/ I offer myself to you/ Take what I give you.” Lover and Almighty collapse wholly into the same anonymous gaze whose ultimate role is to construct the identity of the subject, our narrator, whose foil is the narrator’s own straining gaze, which circles back to the beginning of the track: “My light is flickering/ I can’t see much of you.”
This devotion to a scarce Other is more directly problematized on the pop-centerpiece of the record “four ethers,” in itself a gorgeous, gently crescendo’ing song about loving someone who can’t love themselves, wherein Wise develops the lyrical theme of interdependent, collapsing bodies: “Babe/ It’s cool with me that you want to die/ And I’m not gonna stop you if you try/ But the hole in my belly has started growing.” The track impacts with magnified, sometimes hilarious poignancy for how the typically magniloquent address of the narrator turns conversational, vulnerable, and unassuming, in itself the practice of a spiritual humility: “Your name is about as easy to remember as the four ethers/ And who the hell knows the four ethers? / But your pain is about as easy to feel as the four ethers/ And who can do without the four ethers?” Deflated under the duress of a godlike other who seeks nothing but oblivion, the narrator surrenders to their own lack of ability to name what is elemental, stripping their demands down, fittingly, to an elemental level: “You’ve got to show me yourself.”
blisters is a shadowbox of foregrounds and backgrounds, plainspoken address versus skyward invocation, the injunction of intersecting folk performance styles (spiritual, musical theater, pop R&B) into the sparring tectonic movements of neophytic hyperobjects. Insofar as “catharsis” is a human metric for the sublimation of trauma, blisters has that, yet its cyclical theme of “forgiveness” is maybe of greater import. By the time penultimate track “penance” dissolves into the ruminative finale of “redemption,” ironically titled because it speaks as from beyond the eclipse of the trauma that blisters encapsulates, it’s clear that transcendence via dissolution into the gaze of an other is a myth no longer worth buying into, only viable in the same stroke as erasure and oblivion. If blisters originate from the friction of like surfaces, the sores of bodies unsuccessfully merging, then they are all we are left with at the close of the record:
“I thought there was redemption in the four ethers/ Somehow I thought the sweet perfume of our truths rotting inside your belly could free me/ If I could just anoint my body with this perfume/ This perfume will surely save me/ The thing that sours in your belly will surely save me, surely/ But your name is impossible to know.”
Our latest preview from serpentwithfeet’s blisters EP is “four ethers.” This one finds Josiah Wise applying his powerful vocal flutters to a muted regal procession. The sound of brass in the distance gives way to dramatic orchestral strings front and center, and as things settle down again, Wise concludes, “I’m fine with you being a … More »
This week, Secretary Of State Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first woman in history to be nominated by a major party to hold this country’s highest political office. The last night of the DNC was a historical moment, regardless of whether or not you’re #withher; it was a big night for the Democratic party, an … More »
Last month we heard “Flickering,” our first exposure to 27-year-old Baltimore native Josiah Wise. Wise has a background as a classical vocalist, but under the name serpentwithfeet, he’s blending those influences with dark, artful R&B and gospel. The sound he’s landed on is compelling and truly original. More »