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July 2021 – single & track reviews – Lizard Brain’s ‘If Our Eyes Were Blue’; Vi. & sam’s ‘Pressure’; Parnell March’s ‘Therapy’

9 Jul

A little parable about bigotry from politically-inclined Cambridge pop brain Lizard Brain lays out the nonsense of segregation, and of Jim Crow racism. ‘If Our Eyes Were Blue’ draws heavily on the educational thought experiments of Jane Elliott, in which school classes were divided up purely on the basis of eye colour and then made to act out rules of discrimination, of social caste and of restricted association based on that distinction.

Via archive samples, Jane’s crisp voice punctuates the retro-synth-pop bounce, buzz and beat in which Lizard Brain have chosen to sheath the song; almost in duet with on/off Lizard Brain vocalist Tony Jenkins as she delivers her satirical edicts. “Brown-eyed people are better than blue-eyed people… You blue-eyed people are not to play with the brown-eyed people at any time.” Meanwhile Tony, dreamy and gentle, provides the emotional content, the empathy which soothes the sense of outrage. “Young girl she cries, / tears crystallize… / Can’t understand / the heavy hand / “look at the things they do, / because my eyes are blue”…”

There’s never any question of where Lizard Brain’s own sympathies lie, regarding Jane and her lessons –“She can see the people we should be / and what we all should do.” This is essentially an adjunct to the original experiment, a pop reduction for a classroom singalong. It even ends with a quick sample of Jane proposing the idea of discrimination as fair to her classful of children, and with them resoundingly rejecting it. Unambiguous in its stance – a spelled-out whiteboard lesson rather than a philosophical trick-bag – this might not be exactly what you or I need as adults; but in its ethical straightforwardness it might be exactly what our kids need (assuming that they’ve not already learnt their civics, and they’re not already way ahead of us).

In contrast, ‘Pressure’ – the latest from Swedish production duo Vi. – deals with the problems in being straightforward. Housed in a softly melancholic deep house pop frame, and helmed by singer sam, it dramatizes the feelings of someone wanting to vent deep emotions but being terrified of judgement. Right from the start, it’s rooted in imminent panic (“blurry vision, voices in my mind – wish I could flow the world around me,”) and building angst ( “I got way too many hours on my own, / and I’m not that good at being all alone.”) While sam sings with the abstract tenderness of many a deep-houser, his words ripple with introversion (“searching for a sign / I never really made an effort, / falling back to square one all the time,”) and slip into a chorus like a soft-shoe landslide – “I don’t want to talk about it, it won’t work. / Can’t you see that I have tried it – it gets worse. / Gets better if I keep my feelings to myself. / I shouldn’t bother someone else. / Keep it all to myself, just talk about something else.”

The soundcrafting does what it can to capture this, too. While Vi. have shaped ‘Pressure’ to be a smooth, gently tear-jerking slice of contemporary dance pop (and while they’ve succeeded in this), small production details and club mix tricks give it an edge of subliminal hysteria. The instrumental hook is a glorious yet tissue-thin synth billow, tentatively overwhelming but pulled back. Other parts sometimes come lurching violently out of the mix only to be yanked back immediately. The effect is one of brittle poise being wrecked by rippling tells – one which breaks down into a silky middle eight of impending collapse. “Please don’t do this right now – I don’t wanna see ya. / I’ve been doing all right, / now I’m gonna leave ya – / tryna find a place where I don’t have to hide.”

All of which should lead neatly into Parnell March‘s ‘Therapy’, a rolling spread of analogue EDM in classic Germanic/post-Boards of Canada style; a serenely ecstatic micro-weir of tumbling electronic tones and melody-pulses. But while there’s a voice is there, it’s tweaked beyond recognition by vocoder into an unintelligible but comforting burble. If there’s a message, it’s muffled and medicated; sunny but slimmed; a minimal, murmuring beehive.

In the accompanying video, meanwhile, a sweet little ginger-haired lad grows gradually more disturbed by online imagery and body anxiety, seeking out the services of a series of slick but shallow counsellors before deciding to take matters into his own hands. A thin film of quizzical irony covers the bright, mundane vistas. Therapists nod along sympathetically while covertly buying stock in anti-depressants; there are cameo appearances from a Joe Rogan video and a Jordan Petersen paperback; and even after he tosses his pills down the toilet and hits the road there’s no clear conclusion as to where our boy ends up. For the moment, Parnell seems content to soundtrack the ambiguous anomie of these states of mind – the strange, shallow elations, the papery calm; the gentle manic high and the buried rumble; the vacant reverb behind the day-to-day noise.

Lizard Brain: ‘If Our Eyes Were Blue’
German Shepherd Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music

Lizard Brain online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon Music,    

Vi. & sam: ‘Pressure’
ART:ERY Music Group
(no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

Vi. online:
Homepage, Soundcloud, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music   

sam online:
Deezer, Spotify  


Parnell March: ‘Therapy’
Uncle Herb Recordings (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify

Parnell March online:
Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify   

October 2020 – single & track reviews – Yeslah’s ‘Trancefixion’; Treasure Gnomes’ ‘Messages’ (featuring Lachi); GMTA’s ‘Forbidden Moments’

9 Oct

Staring boldly out of a welter of digital rotoscoping, Yeslah is a virtual aidoru with teeth – a fierce-girl pop star as a living cartoon, a self-declared “animated rap-bitch queen, hell-bent on summoning the return of the female power, and to every female her power”. Just how much of this is really sensual ghost-in-the-machine and how much of it is just a particularly dedicated image filter is up for questioning (well, not so much, really); but ‘Trancefixion’ is a terrifically assured blend of assertion and body-positive narcissism. Literally a wake-up-in-the-morning-and-masturbate-over-how-great-you-are disco pumper.

There’s more to it than that. Bounding through a massive confection of four-on-the-floor beats, porny come-ons, bustling synth-soul brass, winddowns and speed-ups, Yeslah grabs as much as she can in terms of image control and self-summoned goddess frenzy (“I get decked out and I hit the streets. / Nowhere to go but I like to be seen. / I’ve got glitter in my eyes and my fish-net tights, / period blood dripping down my thigh,”) while simultaneously embracing what seems to be a full-on identity meltdown (“I wake up and I don’t belong / I look in the mirror like there’s something wrong / There’s someone smiling from behind my face / I see stars when I masturbate.. / I’m a princess trapped in a video game / I might be a hologram but I’m no slave… / Boys and girls inside a machine, / I start to see the cameras, they can’t see me.”).

Nothing’s in conflict, though. Everything’s rapped with the same level of slinky, sexual assurance. Yeslah spits (no holds barred) about pussy power and being “older than love”; is equally cheerful and arrogant about her bi-appeal; goes cross-eyed, disassociative and Baudrillardian about her fluctuating image and her virtual presence. Other women have been here before – Nikki Minaj, Madonna, Peaches and Megan Thee Stallion to name a few – but I don’t think anyone’s flung themselves quite as gleefully into the maskwork as Yeslah has. “In dreams I am always appearer,’ she raps, during the breakdown. “Reflected, my body is clearer.” Clarity in confusion. The extended mix offers extra crystallinity – not New Age chimes and twinkles, but more like some club nutter playing serious maracca-shake with a giant pair of chandeliers. It’s all about the subtlety here.

Following this blast of hyper-pop, ‘Messages’ is more down-to-earth: New York singer Lachi teaming up with London DJ/producer/songwriter Treasure Gnomes following a bit of mutual bonding over aggrieved texts and voicemails sent to exes, or to gonna-be exes – “you got me on that hang-up, call-back, sayin’ things that nobody ought to hear.” While ‘Trancefixion’ takes everything (from musical changes to violently altered perspectives) in its lubricious stride, ‘Messages’ hops from mood to mood, accelerates, blows up; follows the dynamics of a building monologue when what were once sad love-diary notes and held-in thoughts become full-on outcries.

Lachi is magnificent throughout – starting off soft and buzzing, (“I saw you talking with your friends and I wonder do you ever mention me? / But what could you really know? / when you don’t take the time to pay attention, though?”) rising through broken R&B rhythms and gut-grunts (both skeptical or wounded), and through swelling protest to full-diva wail with nary a moment that she isn’t controlling and shaping what she has to say, even as the surges and counter-emotions play with her. Treasure Gnomes backs it up with beats switching from sparse and breezy to machine-gun dance bursts, and with malleable synth-strokes like cartoon whale-song, while Lachi tumbles and rebounds from feeling to feeling. “I see the way that you glance at me, but I don’t mean shit on the gram to you,” she accuses, before making confessions about sleepless nights and haunted lovesick meals alone. 

With today’s power plays, entitlements and manipulations being so easily spotted, so easily buried under public scorn, it’s a tougher job to make obsession seem dignified. ‘Messages’ manages it, though; never sullying itself with whines or vindictiveness even as its fever mounts. “I’m aware that it’s crazy – I need you to hear me,” Lachi sings at one point, confessing and asserting. Later, during a musical lull, she’ll reveal “I’m no longer up at all hours, I’m finding my energy.” One chorus later, she’ll be back at the love-call; but although she’s currently stuck, there are signs that she won’t be stuck permanently. They’re there to be picked up. It’s in the tone. At some point soon, those message are going to stop, and they’ll be missed. 

On ‘Forbidden Moments’, the spare, moody, ominous pop of Dutch duo GMTA plays us out by etching a picture of illicit mutual fascination: the pull of temptation and seduction where it isn’t allowed. A drum machine beat like a watching camera, slightly out-of-sync with what it’s supposed to be watching. Dark-toned electric piano and the drag of bass. And the voice, mournfully romantic but stony with constrained intent… “Forbidden moments with your hungry eyes. / Secretly moving my hands on your thighs – / Mind says stop, but lips contradicting… / Forbidden moments, share what’s not mine, / the feeling of guilt and tears in your eyes. / Heart wants love, but body’s conflicting.”

A different kind of horny, then. A different kind of romance. Caught under the gaze of guilt and God (if not a jealous spouse) and the clench of northern European propriety. The strain is there – just there – in the grain of the voice. Like many a tragic crooner before him, he’s enjoying the ache, but he’s masking it with a studied cool.

Or is he? It’s cracking. He bursts out with “but don’t you feel that we could be something else? / and don’t you think that we should be somewhere else? / and don’t you feel like we should be running / and we should be hiding away?” There’s not a change in the sustained forebodingness of the music behind him. It runs on. It fades out. No answer, just a heavy question, finally raised. “We are something of each other – / there are only lines to cross…” Out of shot, decisions will be made.

Yeslah: ‘Trancefixion’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th October 2020

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon Music

Yeslah online:
Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram   

Treasure Gnomes ‘Messages’ (featuring Lachi)
Be Yourself Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
8th October 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, Beatport

Treasure Gnomes online:
Twitter, Soundcloud, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Beatport  

Lachi online:
Homepage, Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Pandora, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Beatport

GMTA: ‘Forbidden Thoughts’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th October 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

GMTA online:
Homepage, Facebook, Soundcloud, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram 

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