Tone Glow 017: Fire-Toolz
An interview with Fire-Toolz + an accompanying mix, album downloads, and our writers panel on albums from Malvern Brume, Ashley Paul, Steve Gunn, and Harrga via Cafe OTO's new Takuroku imprint
Angel Marcloid has released work as Fire-Toolz, Nonlocal Forecast, MindSpring Memories, Toad Computers, Path to Lobster Believers, and numerous other monikers. A multi-instrumentalist, professional mixing/mastering engineer, and digital visual artist, Marcloid brings technical expertise and an experimental mindset to her work. Marcloid is clearly influenced by vaporwave, death metal, prog rock, noise, and jazz fusion, but creates work that often dissolves the boundaries between them.
Leah B. Levinson talked with Marcloid on May 17th about her music, having a body, and Christopher Cross. Levinson wrote a review of Marcloid’s latest album, Rainbow Bridge, for her newsletter Happiness Journal—we highly recommend reading it. Photos by Manda Boling. Illustrations by Leah B. Levinson.
Leah B. Levinson: How are you doing today?
Fire-Toolz: I’m doing pretty good. I’m sitting in my bedroom office with a blanket wrapped around me and the window open. I’m chilly but I like to feel the cool breeze.
Is it just you and the cats in the house?
No, I live with my partner but she has her own bedroom and everything. We definitely spend time together every day but we’re not one of those couples that are the same person. Sometimes I don’t see her for a good 6 or 8 hours. So, it’s us two and three cats.
I watched the YouTube AMA (Ask Me Anything) yesterday. What was that like for you and how did you feel after it?
Beforehand I wasn’t really that nervous. It didn’t really feel like anything that would be too out of the ordinary for me because I talk to people on video chat, I talk to people on the internet, I talk to people in person, and I do interviews where I talk about my music… So I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. But then afterward… After talking for two hours straight… I can’t quite explain the feeling. It was strange. It was like I was experiencing the aftermath of being overwhelmed without having been overwhelmed to begin with.
And when it was over I felt like I came back to my body. It was, “whoa, what the fuck was I doing for two hours?” It was mildly dissociative—not in a bad way or a dangerous way or anything—but my brain had to go all these different places because people asked me all these different questions and there was not much time to collect myself in between. When I was finally able to collect myself it was surreal. I felt like a spaceship had just dropped me off.
I can imagine. You answered the questions great and you seemed casual, but I imagined that it must have been one of the first times you’ve done something like that. It seems like a totally strange experience to be answering questions in real-time like that.
Yeah, it really is. I did not think it would feel that strange. And it wasn’t really strange in a bad way, it was more of just a neutral, intense strange. There were a few questions where I felt like I just couldn’t say what I wanted to say. And I listened back to those answers and I was like, “ah, you didn’t quite get it. You were so close but you just didn’t say it the way you’ve said it before.” So I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t as clear as I wanted to be a few times.
I don’t feel that I looked stupid but I think that I said some things that could be potentially regarded as like, “she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” Not a big deal or anything though. I thought here or there, “should I take this down?” And then I just thought it was so real, and it was such an experience, and it was my first time, so I should just leave it up for novelty’s sake.
Yeah, do you want to talk through any of those answers? I’d be interested since I saw it all.
Well yeah, my friend Daffodil asked kind of a similar question about something that you touched on in your review of Rainbow Bridge. They referenced one of the same parts of my bio that you did in your writeup:
On paper/on Earth, you could say that Angel is transgender, specifically transfeminine. […] The way she sees it, this term is more of a personality and presentation descriptor than a gender identity. “Identity” is not something that Angel is that interested in claiming. […] Angel is, on the level of form, a person, an animal, a sentient conglomeration of cells. But on a deeper and more real level, she is... happening, just as every other person and thing in this universe happening. Her lack of claiming a gender identity, and the world's resistance to accommodating this freedom to do so, are aspects of her worldly experience, but they do not define her essence, which is prior to the world, as everyone's is.
This person, as well as a few others on Twitter—and I’m not using this word in a bad way, I mean it seriously—they were pretty triggered by it because they’re trans too. They have their whole experience with identity, identity politics, how people regard them out in the world, everything surrounding how they experience transness, and so they read my words through that lens.
I think other trans people see things like what’s in my bio and just feel like, even though I’m not projecting onto them, they can’t possibly not take my words as a projection onto the trans experience. My words are indirectly referring to their experience by saying, “I don’t think trans identity is that important when you look at it through this lens in particular.” And I think that’s really triggering for a lot of people and completely and totally understandably so. Even though I’m always sure to talk about the other lenses as well.
In the AMA I tried to explain these different lenses, or levels, where on one hand identity is extremely important and on another hand it doesn’t mean anything. And I tried to say that both of those levels are equally valid and should be present in our lives for consideration. But I feel like just now I even said it better than I did then, and I barely even said it.
Sure. Yeah, what I’ve gotten from your answer about that is that you’ve found some power by being able to let go to some degree?
Yes, that is exactly true. Oh god, it’s so empowering. There’s a lot of empowerment there. That’s a really good word to use for that. It might’ve been what I was searching for. There’s so much empowerment in letting go of things. But letting go does not mean pushing aside, disregarding, disrespecting, pretending it doesn’t exist, etc., etc., etc. It just means loosening your insatiable grip on trying to hold onto or control or force something to happen, to the point where there is so much resistance to reality that you can’t even function in society.
In surrendering to what is, there is so much peace. And I don’t mean surrender like, “oh, that’s fine, you can kill me because I’m trans, I’m not gonna fight you.” Like, of course I’m gonna fucking fight if it is needed. But, the fact that they want to kill me does not threaten my inner being because I know who I am, and who I am is not my body, it’s not any labels, it’s not my race, it’s not my gender, it’s not even my experience as a trans person. What is underneath all of that is something way more fundamental, and one word you could use (which is a really corny word that gets thrown around) is soul. Or spirit, or Being with a capital B, or something like that. Dare I say, God.
So, really that’s what I wanted to express and I think I do it in my bio alright but I didn’t really do it well in the AMA.
It’s definitely one of those things that’s really hard to express because it can be very easily misconstrued.
I actually think that it’s something that’s beyond words. The essence of it is far beyond what a word can describe. And I think we developed language intuitively to try and communicate more discriminately about things that are not discriminate, but rather nebulous, abstract, or visceral.
I think almost everything in life is beyond words, I think that all words are limiting. I think all words are just representative of the truth. They just point to the truth, but they are not the truth, they can’t be.
There’s some really popular Buddhist saying. I don’t know who said it, maybe it was the Buddha himself, but he refers to a finger pointing to the moon being different from the moon. Words are like that. Because the moon is the fucking moon, not a word. It can’t be described. And you can’t depict it or manifest it with the tip of your finger… the finger is just a sign that tells you where to look to get the truth. As you start to describe the moon, you’re basically lying. Words are a concession. They are not accurate. Math is more accurate than language, and even math doesn’t get at the essence of anything.
So, all that to say, when you try to put something like core existential identity into words, it’s almost like a joke, it’s almost pointless. I mean, it’s not pointless but you have to kind of accept the fact that you’re never gonna be able to say it in a way that actually reflects what you actually mean. Reality is like HD, and language is like what Facebook does to HD videos.
Yeah, I also wonder about the relative youngness of “transness” as a construct.
Absolutely. Oh gosh, you’re so right, that’s a huge factor and we’re at just the beginning. We’ve transness in ancient cultures, but then again, is it really “trans” in the modern sense if your culture never really had a binary to begin with? Or if diverging from the binary isn’t some sort of problem?
And I would never make an assessment about someone else’s transness by saying it’s authentic or it’s not authentic, but people have to figure shit out and sometimes they do go through phases. I have a friend who has transitioned and de-transitioned twice now. They’re figuring shit out, you know. Riding the waves. But in the modern world, among those waves is a massive amount of oppression in some form.
It’s very hard to experience and, yeah, it definitely gives these words so much weight. So, to be able to shake them off takes a kind of internal strength outside of the words themselves. The words are almost like armor and there’s maybe this point where you have to be so certain of your experience that you can leave the words, or use them in a more mutable way.
Yeah, I agree with that.
I think that’s maybe what I feel about its youngness as a construct. The words are still in their natal form, not the concepts of being outside of a gender binary—like you’re saying those exist in past cultures—but the actual words themselves as constructs that we’re filling with meaning are still being generated; the ones that we use most popularly today. And so to use them amorphously seems like it would be natural but it also seems counterintuitive to what one often wants or needs to be done with them.
Yeah, that’s true. Usually I think of intuition as there only being one intuition, one single voice… Like, when we’re feeling two different things and they both feel intuitive, I often wonder, “well, which one’s the intuition and which one is the diversion from intuition?” But I don’t know, I think we just want to express ourselves and we’re doing it the best we know how in any given moment.
Illustration by Levinson of a still from the “Rainbow ∞ Bridge” YouTube music video, click through to view.
Can you say more about intuition and diversion from intuition?
Intuition is a big thing in my life. I am always in sync with it, but I am on a journey of learning how to discern intuition from fear, habit, and what I’ve kind of been brainwashed by the world around me to think or believe. A lot of people think they follow their intuition but they’re just following their paranoia, like, “I have a bad feeling about this, let’s not do this.” That could just be something like trauma from childhood manifesting, rather than the heart’s deepest craving using it’s voice.
I think following God is literally the same thing as following the heart, or one’s intuition. I think there is no differentiation whatsoever. Religion is always completely and utterly tainted and split from it’s contemplative roots by the powers that be in the name of what they would say is God but what I say is criminalizing intuition. Modern dogmatic and fundamentalist religious institutions teach us that our intuition is evil, or at the gentlest misleading. You can rewind centuries and centuries and see that occur, over and over again.
In day-to-day life you have these things that the media tells you and that society tells you and that your culture tells you, and the way you interpret your experience tells you… You’ve got all these different voices coming from everywhere and just discerning what is of the heart and what’s not can be really difficult. It gets much easier with practice.
I’m curious how you view improvisation as part of your overall practice. I know on certain releases it’s the source material. You recently put out Skone as Path to Lobster Believers, and that was… was it no-input mixer?
Not quite, and actually a lot of people thought that and I think it’s because yeah there actually is some no-input on there, but Path to Lobster Believers is cassette manipulation and tape music. It was all recorded on a Walkman, so some of the clips are of me playing no-input mixer, and then there’s a lot of other stuff there too.
I would record various things over the course of days or weeks or months or whatever, whether incidental or performed. Then in post-production I would sometimes layer the recordings. It is improv in a sense because my decision to hit record is very stream-of-consciousness.
So then I’m wondering if you would extend that kind of thinking to projects like Fire-Toolz and Nonlocal Forecast where they seem more compositional, but I could almost see them as longform improvisatory practices.
Yeah, they are. In a much different way, but they are. The same foundational approach is there. But the difference between Fire-Toolz and Nonlocal Forecast is that Nonlocal Forecast, like Path To Lobster Believers, has rules. There are genres I stick to, and instruments. And sensibilities. I purposefully go for that kind of music when I compose. But Fire-Toolz is always whatever I feel like doing. And it ends up the way it is because that’s just where I am at the time. One of the new songs I’m working on sounds like Deftones. Another sounds like Fleeting Joys or some other bright-sounding shoegaze band. And some others are just free-form abstract noise and sound-collage. I just finished a track that is mostly inhumanly fast blast beats over harsh walls of noise. No rules!!
But the improvisational foundation can be seen in both projects in the sense that—just like Fire-Toolz—when I open up a new project and I think to myself I want to compose a Nonlocal song today, I still just kind of just fuck around until an idea materializes. Then one thing happens after another and one thing leads to another and then the song is done. It still feels natural and flowing, like improvising. It’s like, yeah, there are thoughts that arise, but I don’t get in the way of them. My body just makes what the thought suggests.
Whatever gets composed is ultimately just a reflection of where I am in the moment.
I imagine you’re frequently shifting between composition, production, arrangement, mixing, etc.
All at the same time almost always. Well, mastering is last, but I do test my project with mastering plug-ins often to get an idea of how everything will react to compression or whatever. I can’t even move on to the next element if the two I just laid down don’t kind of sound good together mixing-wise. If I make a beat and then I put a bass line in there, I can’t just focus on the synth pads because of the kick and the bass piling up in the low frequencies. It might create more work in the end but if making music isn’t instantly gratifying, I don’t enjoy it.
I hate doing mixing projects where when I’m done mixing the record I send it to the client before it’s been mastered. I don’t want them to hear it yet!!! When I send it to them I’m like, this is a mix but don’t worry it’s gonna sound perfect when it’s mastered.
I was curious when you started mastering for others professionally and what you’ve taken from that work into your own creative process or creative work.
Yeah, I’m so much better now at mixing my own stuff because I’ve spent so much time on other people’s. Gosh, I would recommend that for anyone who produces or mixes music otherwise just for themselves. I would say do that a lot. Otherwise you’ll get in this box, and it’ll just be total Stockholm syndrome.
You can’t be good at mixing or mastering if you only mix or master stuff that you make. You need to learn how to work with other styles because other people’s ears and brains are different from yours. I get projects all the time from people who made the album on their monitors, and they only ever listen to it on their monitors, with their particular brand of tinnitus, and things just sound a little weird, like an unreasonable amount of bass, or a huge gap in the midrange. Or I will master something for someone, and they will listen to it and say “it sounds like you cut all the bass. What happened?” And I’ll be like, go listen in your car or at your partner’s house or on your dad’s system. And they’ll come back and say “nevermind, sounds great to me.” But I shouldn’t use bass as an example… I am a bit of a bass fetishist.
Also, other people inspire me. I helped mix a record by this project called Shmu. Hopefully it’ll be coming out soon. The music is just so mind-blowing to me and while working with it I got to hear all the multi-tracks and stems separately and see how everything was stitched together. I had started working on the next Fire-Toolz record at the time and this Shmu record was getting me so stoked to get as detailed as this other artist had gotten.
Rainbow Bridge feels to me that, as an album, it gives the most cohesive voice from Fire-Toolz so far, as more representative of the project’s identity and the path that the project could go down. I was wondering to what degree that resonates with you and whether that was a conscious choice or whether that was just the result of albums and albums of development.
Yeah, that’s a really awesome question. I don’t know if I’ve told you, but every one of your questions are awesome.
They’re good. So, let’s see, pretty much with every other album there have been a couple of themes that overlap, kind of like a Venn diagram but with more dimensions. You’ve seen those ones with like six circles and they all intersect a different amount at different points? The albums have been kind of like that.
My discography is basically a progression of coming out of that first album’s mindset. My first album was mostly really angry and pessimistic. I was playing a huge victim role and completely neglecting to understand the position of the person I was complaining about most of the time. So Drip Mental had some remnants of the album before that, but it was a lot more insightful. It was more playful. I had come out before that, so the album was still very much about struggling, and it was still a bit delusional in some aspects as well. But something was beginning to open up, kick-started by a horrible break-up and coming out. There was a spiritual undertone becoming more prevalent as well, but I was struggling with it during that time. Interbeing marks some really huge openings and tastes of peace and things like that. There’s still some struggle in there for sure but things had gotten brighter, clearer, glassier, shinier. I was starting to fuck with new age and jazz fusion a lot harder, which I think is a metaphor in itself for said opening.
And then with Skinless-X1, I just feel like I hardly had anything to say. I just wanted to just watch or something. I hardly wanted to communicate a message, so when I did say something, when I did have lyrics, they were just so kind of… They didn’t really go very deep into anything, they just kind of scratched at little parts of the surface; just little comments of things because I just didn’t have words. In fact, that is the reason for the style of poetry those lyrics seem to represent. They are almost arbitrary at times, because the right words could not be found, so I just lightly danced around most of it. The main message of the song “Interbeing” isn’t even voiced. I could only briefly touch on a few details. Same with “Screamography.” And so that album feels—I don’t want to say peaceful—it feels really serene and simple and perfect. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain because some of the craziest screaming heavy parts I’ve ever done are on that album. And then Field Whispers, same thing, just a handful of loose themes. Just pondering consciousness, awareness, experience, levels of reality, nonduality, from a scientific, spiritual, and personal or experiential standpoint. Just various things that related to each other but nothing one-pointed. I think a deep fondness for nature is present.
But, the reason they’ve all been so multi-conceptual, or, so loose in everything concept-wise, is because nothing in my life had really happened while making those albums that would give me an excuse to want to have a single main idea. I wouldn’t want to choose a main idea and then have all this other stuff go on in my life while I’m working on it and not be able to channel that into things. I know a lot of artists out there can channel their personal journey into their science fiction novel, but I have to make music about what’s up right now. In me. So I don’t usually have overarching themes on albums.
But when my cat Breakfast passed away, it was just so big for me and so powerful and it seeped into every other part of my life in some way. I would write lyrics and as I was writing and I would just be referring to her again or I would want to ask her something or I would want to tell her something and it just kept showing up as I was working on lyrics and so it just sort of became about that. I guess, if you zoom out, the album is ultimately about understanding death, grief, fear of death, compassion and empathy, perceived loss (because ultimately it’s just a transition), etc. But I use Breakfast and my experience with her as the main talking point.
So that’s the long answer, and the short answer is I just make music about what is present and if I’m in multiple places and going through multiple things, I want to write about all of them and if something sort of consumes me and I’m working on an album, that thing is gonna consume the album.
That’s really interesting…
I have a feeling that the new stuff, I’ll probably just kind of… I haven’t written very many lyrics yet but... they’re kind of just about various things already. They all sound very different. More different from each other than on other albums. So I just feel like the next one probably won’t have that one subject, that main talking point. But who knows what’ll happen. Maybe I’ll get COVID-19 and I’ll react very badly to it and come within an inch of my life and I’ll have a near-death experience and come back and then I’ll have to make my next Fire-Toolz album about something.
Yeah, that’s a pretty unifying topic.
Yeah, exactly. If something like that doesn’t happen then it’s probably just gonna be, it’s gonna be a little about Breakfast. I know that I’m gonna be writing about animals and cats a lot more because Breakfast passing has brought something into my life that wasn’t there before. Now I’m even more involved with that world, with animals and helping rescues and being there for people that have lost pets. I’ve had fans email me a few times now for advice or to talk about coping because of what Rainbow Bridge has brought up, because they know what it’s about and they’ve read some interviews and they think I can offer something. And people will just attach photos of their cats to their business emails without feeling like they need to be prompted. And they absolutely don’t. So that rules.
That’s really cool. That’s very profound to think about how a totalizing emotion can bring about this totalizing artistic artifact but then these more fleeting emotions can produce more, different formal characteristics. To hear you express that you have a feeling that you’ll go back to something a little more open or scattered—and that that’s not a step backwards for the project but just a new place you’re at—is really neat.
My concepts usually arise after I’ve already gone pretty deep into the songs because otherwise it’s just too early to decide something that final. Because, what if life takes me somewhere else? I’m about to move after living in this apartment for 6 years, and there is no way that isn’t gonna impact my psyche. I’m right in the middle of an album! That is going to play out real interestingly. It’ll be something I talk about in a future interview, I’m sure of it.
When you were talking about your past albums you touched on a question I have that I want to explore a bit more. I find Drip Mental to be, sonically, your funniest album as Fire-Toolz…
Yup, it definitely is. I was so mad when people perceived humor from that album at first but it’s undeniable. I was being a little bit silly.
Yeah, and so, you also told me when we were messaging that lyrically it also has the most to do with your experience of transness. You said you made it after you came out, so I was wondering if you see those things to be related in any way: using humor to deal with that, or what that relationship might be to you, or if it’s just two facets of the album meeting up but on different trajectories.
Huh… I didn’t think they were related in that way, but they might be. They’re related intrinsically because they were both occurring at the same time. So they just are naturally connected and interacting in some way but I don’t know if one came first or triggered the other.
Maybe the reason why Drip Mental sounds the way it sounds is because I was just in the mood to get a little playful with my music because I hadn’t before. At least not in the context of lyrical music. But I was also just walking in the streets with my ass hanging out of skirts and makeup caked on my face at the time—and none of this is a negative thing because I think I looked amazing; I loved that look, I love heavy makeup and I love dressing like that, it’s hot as hell, so I’m not saying anything bad about it. I still like to do it. What I am saying is, because I was doing that so much in the city during the day, walking around, obviously I got fucked with constantly. So I was struggling with that a lot in the lyrics. I had no problem being up front and raw about that stuff in some parts of songs. So perhaps when the humor comes in it is a bit of a diversion from how I “really” feel… but only for a moment.
I’ve always been bullied, but I wasn’t dressing as femme when I was younger as I was in the Drip Mental era. I’ve always been like relatively femme for sure, but when I came out I went really hard into looking as much like a hot girl as possible—what the world would think of as a hot girl.
But just by doing that, I went through so much, so many emotions and experiences. I caught myself constantly projecting when it wasn’t necessary, but I also saw myself bottling up feelings of total inadequacy and doom. It was incredible that I learned so much about myself. Certain behaviors came out of the woodwork and really showed themselves, which really forced me into introspection and understanding them and learning about them. It really accelerated me going deeper in therapy than I’d ever gone, and you know, it was like, I wouldn’t say it was rock bottom by any means but it was just really fucking rough. And I eventually just woke up out of it, hence the emergence of the Interbeing album.
I’ve talked before about how I wish people didn’t perceive so much anger in my music, but Drip Mental was pretty angry in a lot of spots. I mean, I literally talk about dreaming of shooting people who’ve harassed me, and I’m really fucking uncomfortable with that now, but I’m glad I did that, I needed that. And then, the little bit of silliness that was in my songs and in my videos, I don’t know, I was also feeling playful, and confident about expressing myself that way.
Illustration by Levinson of her workspace.
I was curious if you have any seminal early experiences of connecting with others online that spring to your mind.
Yeah, I could probably come up with quite a few. Something that really sort of came from my early online life was being able to connect with people in ways that I couldn’t connect with IRL. And not because I was uncomfortable with human beings at the time, but there just wasn’t anybody who I felt like would understand me or that I could relate to on a deeper level. My friends at school, though we were close, they still kinda looked at me like a weirdo. They didn’t really give me a hard time, they just couldn’t relate to some things. Like how I felt about music, or anything emotional really.
What I really loved about ’90s chatrooms and stuff was not that I could seek out people that were like me. I did do that, but I just liked the idea of it being a mixture of people. A small chat room of who the hell knows who, shooting the shit. I talked to many different kinds of people: I was talking to like boomers and teenagers and people from all around the world; they liked different kinds of music and they were into different kinds of things than I was and I felt respected by a lot of those people that I talked to. There was just a mutual respect and kindness. There were always weirdos and trolls but being in a social setting like that at that time didn’t feel that vulnerable to me. Nowadays it’s a bit terrifying.
I guess I was still in that phase of my life where I felt that people were generally benign. Since then I’ve been through this evolution of reversing that belief and then finding myself on another dimension where I don’t think that black and white. I’m very nostalgic for those times because they felt safe.
And also I just liked being alone. My own little world is often good enough for me. So, being online back then, there weren’t comment threads at the end of every fucking page on the internet connected to your Facebook where they enforce you using your real name and profile photo. Back in the ’90s you couldn’t like everything. You go to somebody’s website and just like shit now, and that like is tracked. Back then I just felt like I could wander around these worlds all by myself and explore, and if I wanted to interact I would and if I didn’t want to, I didn’t have to. I didn’t feel bombarded by people and there was email but I had to sign into it, I had to go into that place and then I could leave it.
It was just so fucking cozy because I could do all this exploring. It felt like there were endless possibilities. Now I feel like I can’t do anything without the top whatever being pushed to the top of the results. The experience isn’t as authentic now. What else could I ask for at the time? I had my cats IRL and I lived with my parents so I was protected. I knew they’d feed me and everything and I could just cruise around the internet in the meantime.
But it also extends to outside the internet, to my childhood in general, because I didn’t live in a neighborhood, and we lived on our own property, so I could go outside and walk around and explore and be alone and stay safe. So, to me, sitting on the computer room on the internet is just almost the same feeling as wandering around in the backyard or whatever. Sure you’re not as connected with the more natural world but it’s all just so comfortable and I am just regretfully, just trying to get back to that place as much as I can… Oops!
The last thing I’d like to ask about is if you’d talk about Christopher Cross.
(a few seconds pause) Ah… (pauses) I just felt like this truly warm sensation in my chest when you said his name. What a good last question. It’s pouring down rain outside and I feel like crying now because, well, I cry about everything these days, and it’s like… Surprising me with Christopher Cross’s name while it’s pouring rain outside is almost too much. So, um… Yeah, I just love the guy. I mean, he’s done some stuff post-’90s, and it’s like, it doesn’t pierce my heart the same way the ’80s and early ’90s stuff did just because that’s just my favorite kind of music, ’80s and early ’90s music. Although! His most recent album is really, really beautiful because it doesn’t have verses, it just has choruses and jams and all his guitar solos are so not showy, they’re just so nice and perfect. It’s definitely my favorite since Rendezvous.
But yeah, not really getting at the core of it. There’s so much of what I could say about him really, so maybe what I’ll just do is share how I discovered him and the impact that it made.
I was at my friend’s house, probably in the late 2000s. She played cello and her sister played violin and we were just playing like, I don’t know, “Dust in the Wind,” in the living room or whatever. And their dad was off in the other room on the computer on the internet and just between us playing music or between words, I heard what sounded like the music of heaven coming from the other room, and I was like, “oh my god, that is so beautiful… oh my god.” Like my tear ducts were getting triggered, just by the sound of the chords and the voice over it and the notes being sung. So I just ran in there and I’m just like, “Mr. Hoyes, what is… who is that?” “That’s Christopher Cross.”
So I just stood there and listened to the rest of “Sailing.” I was just like, “oh my god, this is so good.” And he was excited to have shown him to me. The dissonance in the guitar chords really reminded me actually of a lot of emo stuff that I listened to. The guitar riff to “Sailing” could easily be in a Mineral song or an American Football song with a different drum beat and countering guitar part. So I think that might’ve been one reason it caught my ear because it had the same thing that attracted me to emo, those arpeggiated clean dissonant chords. But his voice was so nice and so angelic and high and soft. I just love when guys have voices like that.
For some stupid ass reason I don’t understand, I never really followed up after that day. I got distracted and I never really sought out his music. It was just this beautiful experience I had where I heard it and I felt overwhelmed and in love.
Fast forward to seven years ago or so, I just remember him randomly and download one other album besides his debut with “Sailing” on it, and it happened to be his 1984 album Every Turn of the World. When I first listened to that I was driving to my partner’s mom’s house in northern Michigan for Christmas, by myself. And it was just so—I don’t want to say I was blown away like I was super impressed because it’s like, not anything incredibly special, it’s just ’80s soft rock—, but there’s just something about his songs and the way they felt when I heard them that was just so powerful and I’ve been a Cross nut ever since. His songs get sampled frequently in MindSpring Memories, and I did a cover once. I’ve done a few covers actually. And I just love him. He’s so normal. He’s just, like, a nice old man in a fedora.
You can purchase Rainbow Bridge at Bandcamp.
Tone Glow Mix
Every now and then, artists will provide a mix personally made for Tone Glow. Mixes will always be available for streaming and download.
I have to admit, I did a little bit of clicking the shuffle button on my MP3 collection and dragging tracks into the DJ mix. But I was dragging tracks from a large playlist I continuously add to and subtract from. It's called "safe." It's my "safe music" playlist. It's all stuff that makes me feel very, very cozy. Some of it, like the Exchange or Tom Coster tracks, which have showed up on many mixes I've made in the past, moves me deeply. But there are some other tracks that are just kind of a good time. Most of them are from the 80s, and many of them from bargain bin rare and obscure releases. Some are from library/stock/commercial music records. This does not make them special necessarily, but they are the result of my never-ending journey of hunting among the endless depths of what many would consider washed up but I consider emotionally enlightening.
Download link: MP3
Streaming link: YouTube
Every issue, Tone Glow provides download links to older, obscure albums that we believe deserve highlighting. Each download will be accompanied by a brief description of the album. Artists and labels can contact Tone Glow if you would like to see download links removed.
Midi Duo - Init-Voice (LGO Music, 1989)
Throw this one in your pile of “fourth world”-esque, new age-inflected jazz musings. Midi Duo is comprised of Federico Laterza and Francesco Consaga, and while the former makes similarly breezy music in the Worldream ensemble, Init-Voice has a particular charm that radiates from both the ebullience of individual tracks and the variety that defines the album. “Blu” is a slow-moving trance, its soft percussion popping up through a gauzy mix of synth flutters before finding a match in nimble piano work. “Choro” and “Still Fifteen” have a loving queasiness to them that could’ve been churned out by any of today’s internet-loving retro-fetishists. “California” is perhaps the best of all, its percussion and a sudden double-time melodic sequence emanating a faux-tropical dream.
I often think about how “world music” is a terrible descriptor, but it feels apt here if you include the quotes. This is music that’s an approximation of art from other cultures, and the synthesized nature of the whole affair gives it an even greater semblance of fraudulence. There’s a comfort in how fake it all is—only a fake world could feel so happy. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Kulara - Fragmental Remembrance, a Switch of Resurrection, and My Hearing Vanished (Molaire Industries, 2001)
There’s an anthology from later on that compiles even more work from Japanese screamo band Kulara, but Fragmental Remembrance has the most important stuff: the group’s two EPs from 1999 and 2000. The unconventional aspects of the former—the bits of harmonica on “Two Suns Day,” the fog-like drone of “Machine and Me”—are blown to larger heights on the latter. These two tracks veer into double-digit lengths, and while one could point to other multi-genre album excursions that came after Kulara, such as HELICOID 0222MB’s Flying StarLyzer and Coa’s Sea Urchin Character, little in the Japanese pantheon of hardcore and emo was like “Brown Knife” and “The Belt of Sleep Freeze.” Even the groups that Kulara’s members landed in afterwards—As Meias, Hununhum, and Z—weren’t exactly this ambitious.
“Brown Knife” has jagged guitars intersecting with frolicking piano melodies. Over them is Maruse, his vocals lumbering over in a tired, exasperated manner, though it isn’t long before he lets out full-bodied screams. Post-rock passages periodically appear, at once mellow and tense. There’s a particularly unsettling feel to the one that appears midsong, with vocals at their most ghastly, the piano sounding deceptively nostalgic, the guitars sounding pained in every strum and rung-out note. “The Belt of Sleep Freeze” similarly weaves in and out of energetic moods, though it begins with an extended intro that leads into slow-burning post-hardcore. The pacing is more lethargic, but all it does is grant a mesmerizing grandeur to the proceedings. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
ECCO UNLIMITED - NHK REMINDS YOU TO BOOST YOUR SIGNAL (self-released, 2012)
Sometime after Daniel Lopatin’s Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1 and James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual, vaporwave became the trendy verbiage in which to describe post-internet music that was becoming the genre du jour on places like /mu/. The summer of 2013 is legendary for thread after thread each day proclaiming Floral Shoppe by Macintosh Plus as some weird joke, only to keep resonating and infiltrating unsuspecting listeners’ minds. Unlike Macintosh Plus, INTERNET CLUB (aka Robin Burnett) didn’t hide their identity, but they likewise used a number of different aliases to create music that was radically different yet in the same sphere. Wakesleep and Datavis were their ambient/drone tags, while Datavision Ltd. and INTERNET CLUB spliced samples to unlock memories that had long been forgotten. However, one project stands out as the most guarded thematically, emotionally affecting in a way that echoes throughout its short runtime.
NHK REMINDS YOU TO BOOST YOUR SIGNAL by ECCO UNLIMITED is the most pure summation of how the internet pigeonholed these albums into an easy descriptor. The most listenable vaporwave albums were easily sucked into the YouTube algorithm and raved about by Redditors all over, but ECCO UNLIMITED is much more akin to a William Basinski release. It’s research chemical tape music, living in test patterns and 4 am sleepover malaise. Burnett’s vast repertoire of influences and cultural cache blends together through a soothing noise background. It’s a fitting outlier for the subgenre that was so desperately misread, a poltergeist unbuoyed by the foundations of acceptability. —Eli Schoop
Every issue, Tone Glow has a panel of writers share brief thoughts on an album and assign it a score between 0 and 10. This section of the website is inspired by The Singles Jukebox.
For this week’s issue of Tone Glow, our writer panel tackles the first four releases in Cafe OTO’s new Takuroku imprint. You can find out more information on their website.
Press Release info: In our first batch of releases, Steve Gunn offers up a delightful selection of refrains from solo guitar, spinning a tapestry of wandering phrases that slowly burrow into vast dream states; playtime gets fun in Ashley Paul's living room with her daughter Cora, partner Ben and a whole host of keyboards, saxophones and miscellaneous objects; Malvern Brume paints a world seemingly abated, in what feels like a lost tape from a field trip in nuclear fallen-out land; and HARRGA—the duo of Dali De Saint Paul and Miguel Prado—deliver a powerful, coruscating response to the overlooked, darker aspects of domestic lockdown.
As well as being an outlet for some incredible new work created over the past few weeks, TakuRoku aims to provide a way to help sustain both Cafe OTO and the artists involved through these incredibly challenging times. 50% of the profits from each purchased download will go directly to the artist, and artists will continue to receive the usual split from titles downloaded with membership credits.
Malvern Brume - Gaps in the Persistent Hiss (Takuroku, 2020)
Matthew Blackwell: Gaps in the Persistent Hiss is based on Malvern Brume’s walks through London during the pandemic, so I took a walk with it myself. Mask on, headphones up. It was a sunny day but I stayed in the shadows because this is not a sunshine record. I live in an idyllic little town which Brume turned into an uncanny Lynchian space. I saw weird signs and weird sights. I strayed away from the community. I avoided all people. The sounds of the album and the sounds of nature began to blur together. My pandemic paranoia was heightened by Brume’s misanthropic mutterings.
The album starts innocently enough, with birds chirping and a nice synth melody. Then the synths become evil and then disappear entirely, and we’re left with Foley sounds from an end-of-days movie. In the midst of all this, Brume describes his surroundings by speaking too close to a hot mic so that only a few phrases are intelligible: “Heavy breath rushing past… bloody traffic on the grass… standing down the concrete path…” Under normal conditions, these would be the thoughts of a madman, but now it’s an all too familiar internal monologue. By the end of my walk, perhaps under the subconscious influence of Brume’s dystopic musings, I had wandered into a graveyard. I found myself watched over by the blank gaze of a black angel. Brume had succeeded in turning the scenes of a lovely spring day into a series of foreboding hidden messages. If, like me, you are more taken with the macabre than the moony, that is a welcome transformation. For all others, beware.
Vanessa Ague: Malvern Brume’s Gaps in the Persistent Hiss is intimately tied to the COVID-19 pandemic: it was written during this time, using field recordings from London’s streets and ominous synths to form a doom-filled, barren landscape. Responding to the time we’re living in now through art is an inevitability, but how do you make art that reads as a genuine representation of humanity rather than an artifact of boredom, or a corny memento, or a full-blown publicity stunt? Gaps in the Persistent Hiss succeeds most in the fact that it’s as much a product of the current moment as it is an exploration of industrial life, a longform drone whose sparse texture provides a haunting experience reminiscent of apocalypse-related media, like Mad Max: Fury Road or Cat’s Cradle.
Perhaps the most unsettling portion of the piece comes with the arrival of a blaring, siren-like noise after the glossy beginning defined by a simplistic, repeating melody layered over ASMR-style scratches. Where the first portion feels cold and far-removed, stagnant yet building, here, the music takes a menacing turn. Brume adds garbled poetry into the mix: the claustrophobic voice ushers in the sounds of a doomsday clock ringing and a rocket launch, heightening anxiety until a momentary pause that brings about the final section. With its last moments, Gaps in the Persistent Hiss engulfs us into hissing static and water splashes, the first sound that is earthly rather than industrial.
Listening to Gaps in the Persistent Hiss is diving head first into a decimated world. The piece’s metallic universe is a clear depiction of desolation, a seemingly hopeless portrayal of doomed realities. This certainly mimics the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s also an entry into the canon of art that illustrates what the apocalypse might feel like. The harsh noise of Gaps in the Persistent Hiss is never complacent in this disastrous trajectory, but rather ebbs and flows between harmony and disarray.
Ryo Miyauchi: Gaps in the Persistent Hiss unfolds loosely diaristic. I can’t decipher what’s said during the spoken parts due to it being too muffled, but he seems to jot down some notes to describe the world’s current state while the track gradually shifts from a warm hum into the thick hiss that’s advertised. Though the sounds seamlessly flow, the voice recordings organize the different phases like a timestamp signifying a new entry from Malvern Brune.
Brune recorded this during March and April, and he might be documenting his head space in real time as it morphs due to stress. The press release of Gaps in the Persistent Hiss begins by mentioning the COVID-19 pandemic and how “it was hard to block out the imagination and its ability to dream up how far things could go.” That said, this is music I would’ve grabbed to help give my distressed state of mind a physical shape no matter the situation. Static drone captures an empty stare into a never-ending horizon, the dreadful hiss and industrial crunch sum up my brain turning into mush. It just so happens we can assign a special event as a cause and setting for these emotions.
Gil Sansón: It's interesting to see how trends in sound come and go, how some seem to stay far longer than they may hope to, and how some of these can date the music in a precise way. Technology has made available for free (or very cheap in comparison) sounds that used to require very expensive equipment to produce. Nowadays, everyone makes music on their laptop computers and there’s a tendency for people to use the same devices and the same sounds, reinforcing the sound of the zeitgeist, perhaps, but also leaving a lot of potential untapped. Gaps in the Persistent Hiss by Malvern Brume features very familiar synthesizer sounds of the type that you can get with a Kaossilator or any similar app, and there’s the requisite field recording with acoustic texture on top.
What makes this a successful release is the unpretentious and sensitive way in which these sounds are allowed to be themselves: it’s all very earnest, nothing is hidden, and there are no attempts to disguise or even personalize these sounds that pretty much everyone’s using. I feel the artist taking the sounds at face value, discovering lukewarm water in a way that I find endearing; Brume knows what’s going on and every choice feels important. This balance between artistic commitment and the choice of very run-of-the-mill timbres results in a sweet and humble affirmation: the joy of experiencing the world of music and sound making in 2020. It’s not trying to make important statements; it’s finding and expressing feelings of quiet wonder with sound.
Jesse Dorris: Listening while under lockdown to work made within lockdown, I’m finding, is part aural ouroboros (sound just sounds like other sounds) and part hall of mirrors (sound just reminds me of myself). In times before, this twenty-minute trip might have unspooled like a radio play with a sui generis if not unprecedented cast of noisemakers: a warming synthesizer, bits of crackle and buzz, poetic utterances mixed just above a tinnitus threshold but below full-on vox. Just at this very moment, though, the bird-whistles and dawn choruses threaded throughout bring to mind the fruitful but endless parade of previous bird guest spots, from Martin Denny to the loon sample that conquered techno to Kate Bush’s avian drag on “Aerial Tal” to, I mean, just about every ambient record on Bandcamp today; and partly of the actual birdsong I can hear through my Brooklyn window, perhaps because of fewer cars battling their cries and perhaps because there are more birds around and perhaps because I’m stuck here listening.
Halfway in, there’s rather fabulous flatulence, probably of balloons inflating or collapsing, along with some indeterminate clattering around; what would have Around the House-era Herbert done with these festive sources? Will I ever go to a party again? It all ends in water splashing around. It always ends in tears or a flood or a river to pitch a tent near—and that’s maybe what this sounds like most of all, a repast in the middle of something else entirely. At one point Brume or whoever is whispering says sounding longer in the absence and it does, it really does—there’s like 70+ days in these 20 minutes. Plus, lunar period Coil is my favorite, its echoes are antibodies, so this can linger.
Purchase Gaps in the Persistent Hiss at the Cafe OTO website.
Ashley Paul - Window Flower (Takuroku, 2020)
Jeff Brown: Like most things in 2020, this album came about via extenuating circumstances. Ashley Paul uses the time of quarantine for a makeshift trio of herself, her partner and her daughter using only the instruments they had on hand. The use of toy instruments, clarinet, and rhythm boxes call to mind the late ’70s era of The Residents and their twinkling percussive pieces. There’s a carefree approach to this album, one of just rolling tape and letting sound permeate, the whole experience like being a fly on their living room wall. There is a purity in seizing the opportunity to create special art—it’s a gift from one domestic island to all the others in this world.
Leah B. Levinson: I’m starting to view my bedroom as a sacred space. To be clear, it has no shortage of clutter, dishes, and dirty laundry, but I’ve decided that inasmuch as those things bother me, I will tend to them. My idea is to eliminate psychic baggage—the book I haven’t yet read, the dust I haven’t swept, the sound I can’t keep in—, and to address it as it takes hold of me. I want to be afloat and active within it, tossing in its bends and imperfections. Here, every dissonance is mine and mine alone.
Joshua Minsoo Kim: Window Flower is a lot more coordinated than the music I’ve made with my two-year-old nephew, that’s for sure. Naturally, it matters: this sounds like actual exercises in improvised musics, and it’s only the kid-friendly instruments and ramshackle nature of it all that grant it a semblance of ostensible superfluity. And yet, it doesn’t really matter at all: regardless of how this sounds, I’m sure that any arrangement of homespun noises would’ve left me moved if they were occasionally interjected by a child’s gleeful mutterings. As such, this is an album of simple but deep pleasures; it’s the sound of people freely creating, of people trying to entertain themselves in a way that makes sense, of people surviving for their own and others’ sake.
Samuel McLemore: I’ve been pondering lately on the connection between musicians and the instruments they play. Instruments, in a very concrete way, shape the limits of an artist’s musical capability, and the way they respond to those limits is the essence of most musical practice. Modern experimental music is often predicated on the notion that, since the possibilities now open to each artist is nearly limitless, we should each find our own unique non-idiomatic voice to create music in. In chasing this dream, musicians have pursued a million different stratagems: playing instruments in non-standard ways, playing non-instruments as instruments, using instruments of one stereotype to play music of a different stereotype, not using instruments at all, etc.
This type of top-down, systematic approach to the structure of music isn’t always obvious from the surface of Window Flower, but on closer examination it’s clear that only an internalization of these concepts could allow for this sort of album to be made. Constructed rather non-obviously from a combination of live “jamz” with overdubs from Ashley, its style ranges all over the map: hints of modern chamber music, NNCK-style hippie jams, and European free improv can all be detected in these loose assemblages. Presumably inspired by both the audibly joyful presence of Cora and the spartan domesticity enforced on us by quarantine measures, Ashley emphasizes the simple pleasures of playing and making with others, never forcing a structure into the music, content to simply play together.
Purchase Window Flower at the Cafe OTO website.
Steve Gunn - Spring in Brooklyn (Takuroku, 2020)
Jesse Locke: In a friendly conversation for Aquarium Drunkard’s Transmissions podcast, Steve Gunn explained how he developed his guitar skills through obsessive practice. Emerging from a background touring in punk bands as a teenager before drifting into experimental terrains via projects like GHQ and the Gunn-Truscinski Duo, he has developed a parallel path as a solo musician with a well-tuned ear for classic song-craft. Yet Gunn’s interests in free-flowing improvisation have never left him, as exemplified by this gorgeously low-key EP.
Wandering between chords and tenderly plucking strings, Gunn’s playing recalls the recently reissued 1978 album Music By William Eaton, another close-mic’d collection of acoustic instrumentals. Yet while Eaton recorded in the vast expanses of the Arizona desert, Gunn is currently at home in one of the country’s epicentres of the pandemic. The three numbered pieces of Spring in Brooklyn drip out at an unhurried pace despite the fact that you can clearly hear sirens and dogs barking through a window before synths envelop its final moments. It’s a subtle yet captivating juxtaposition, bottling our present moment of inner-city agitation without spelling it out in bold. Spring in Brooklyn is by no means a grand statement in Gunn’s ever-deepening discography, but one that offers a mind mellowing when we can all use it most.
Mia Antoinette: Ephemeral August rain brings acceptance. You can no longer wait in vain for roots to take hold in parched clay. Lay to rest the last orange grove; blossoms long since carried away in westward winds. The windows you spent so many afternoons starting out of, now have forgotten your reflection. Pine tree planted in the backyard, now only woodrot and rust. Seasons passed and took with them jasmine vines; turn the soil, turn to dust, turn away; what is there left to cling to?
Cross the Rio Grande, cross the Saddlebacks, cross off Palo Verdes and Evergreens. Turn your face once more, toward the sun, gentler and obscured by mist, not quite hidden. Make peace with its light falling on you, find comfort in its soft contrast from the harsh contrast of what is and what was. June brings stagnance, travel of your own volition, to soft rains, to shrouded cypress; do as you meant to.
Shy Thompson: It’s been a rainy spring here in Spokane. I’ll often sit at my back door and look out at the courtyard to my apartments on rainy days, wondering to myself how things can seem so ordinary in those moments amidst a global health crisis. My neighbors will still wave at me and ask how my flowers are doing, children are still out playing, and my cat still screams to be let out from the other side of my screen door. Life may not be going well in most respects, but it still goes on for many of us. I haven’t grown as fatigued with the constant reminders of the state of the world as some, but certain sentiments are beginning to wear on me. Ads on television have pivoted to assuring me that companies are here for me in these “unprecedented times.” There’s an abundance of imagery of people in Zoom conferences dancing under strobe lights and pretending to surf on their carpets, or doing some otherwise less fun looking substitute for something they wish they could be doing instead. Maybe this helps some people to cope, but it’s entirely foreign to me.
Steve Gunn’s Spring in Brooklyn frames life in a pandemic in a way I can understand: he opened his windows on a rainy day, and did something he’s done countless times before—played his guitar, and let the ambiance of a familiar world guide him through it. The sounds of passing cars, gentle rain, and the unintelligible speech of other people accompanying Gunn and his guitar are a lot like what I hear on my typical spring days. I’ve made peace with the fact that the world is not the same as it was before, and it won’t go back to the way I remember it being; I’m more than fine with that. What gets to me is that my empathy goes out of control and I worry for those who can’t make that peace. I want people to be okay, and some people will not be okay. Spring in Brooklyn gives me a bit of comfort in knowing that these sounds were recorded under the same pressures we’re all living under, in the same spring I’m currently stumbling my way through, and on a rainy day just like the one I had yesterday—and they’re beautiful. It’s not a promise of “precedented times,” but it’s something almost as good: a way forward. Something I like can come from this situation that I hate.
Eli Schoop: We are going through it. It is hard to talk about an album that describes a season in a place that has been so thoroughly decimated by one of the most devastating pandemics the world has seen in centuries. Albums are being released at this moment that reflect our paralyzed existence, but how do we engage with a record that depicts normalcy? There is no right answer, but it seems Steve Gunn’s Spring in Brooklyn is an answer. Even if he didn’t intend it to, the three songs both reminisce of a time of stability, and look to the future, hoping to return to what once was. City sounds decorate the album for comfort and re-orientation; as we continue losing our sense of selves to an uncanny crisis, Spring in Brooklyn is a temporal transportation, the mellow guitar picking akin to lazing about with your friends on a Sunday afternoon without the knowledge of the term “social distancing.” It’s a desperately needed meditation in the moment, but will retain its timeless aspects of virtuosic playing long after coronavirus has left our collective unconscious.
Purchase Spring in Brooklyn at the Cafe OTO website.
Harrga - Femmes d'intérieur (Takuroku, 2020)
Content warning: domestic abuse
Mark Cutler: This little recording will definitely please existing Harrga fans. It’s good to hear Harrga play more with time here, letting ideas develop in a way they largely couldn’t in the three-ish-minute tracks on their 2019 LP. The recording features some gratifying moments in which either Miguel Prado or Dali de Saint Paul suddenly change directions in totally unexpected ways. Early on, for instance, as Prado lets a loop spin itself out, de Saint Paul pivots from singing to a kind of choked laughter. Then, just as abruptly, she stops. The moment is surprising and exhilarating in a way that would be difficult to replicate if Harrga had tried to carve the music up into discrete compositions.
Prado mainly sticks to a palette of industrial and harsh noise synth, deploying a few instrumental samples towards the piece’s back end. At their best, Prado’s synth noise explorations really amplify the force of de Saint Paul’s vocal performance. Unfortunately, de Saint Paul goes some fairly long stretches without singing or saying anything, and the instrumentals don’t always carry the recording on their own. Occasionally, we can hear some obvious knob-twisting or keyboard noodling, which make the piece feel less exploratory, and more just aimless.
Sunik Kim: This is industrial music built from silence, space and dynamics rather than brickwalled distortion and hacked drum machines; sections of Femmes d'intérieur consist solely of murmuring, stuttering, barely audible synthetic drones. Though distortion does play a key role here—especially a third of the way in, when shrieking rave stabs, sequenced like a canon, burst from the shadows—Harrga puts genuine care into their sound design: scraping thuds and clunks disintegrate into flanged digital sandpaper; Vangelis saxophones emerge from a cloud of rumbling modulations. There’s one section that actually scared the shit out of me: around 12 minutes in, Dali de Saint Paul suddenly begins to scream. The scream rises in intensity, almost becoming a yodel; I’m instantly reminded of John Coltrane’s vocal solo at 15:33 on “Leo” on Live at Temple University—where he actually pounds his own chest while singing—or Linda Sharrock's performance on Black Woman.
The recorded scream (excluding instances where it’s molded into lyrical shapes, like in screamo or death metal) is almost always shocking: first of all, it’s loud; second, stripped of context, we can’t ever be sure whether we hear pleasure or pain, regret or rage. That ambiguity takes Dali de Saint Paul’s scream far beyond your typical juvenile industrial music shock tactic. Femmes d'intérieur is about domestic violence and abuse, which has horrifyingly multiplied under COVID-19. In this scream, I hear pain—physical pain, the pain of betrayal—that truly frightens me. But the musical backdrop is, contrary to expectation, one of space, of open air, not of claustrophobia and enclosure. Though I hesitate to read too far into this—especially since I can't understand the few lyrics present here—in this scream I also hear signs of liberation. It’s the rending sound of violence being reflected, reversed, turned against the aggressor—an incantation, a curse.
Ashley Bardhan: Harrga’s Femmes d’intérieur is interested in burning—the name “Harrga” means “a burn” in the Darija dialect of Morocco, so it makes sense. The album is ablaze in deep groans, sparks, crackle, hiss. It’s unrelenting in its fire, burning up again after every quieting. Dali de Saint Paul contributes multilingual vocals (Darija, French, neither) in a rich voice that’s mournful, a little pissed off—the combination occasionally leading to a sense of pastiche. For a few seconds, she laughs.
Quiet moments are quickly torn apart by dry-sounding scrapes, burping bass, or overblown synth choruses, sometimes sounding like a power washer, or what it might sound like if you left your phone in the washing machine while it played Enya. These moments can be exciting, but more often they’re grating. I find myself enjoying the album’s gentle moments, the transitions into loudness, and emotive vocal performances more than the album’s aggression, which is cheesy in its assertiveness rather than formidable.
Harrga dedicates this album to writer and filmmaker Virginie Despentes and all women in lockdown who are “suffering hell” behind closed doors. In that sense, the album’s intermittent, ridiculous violence makes sense. Having lived it, I find that abuse is similar—domestic abuse can be sporadic, unpredictable, sometimes laughable, and sometimes exceptionally disgusting. It’s a heavy subject for an album I’m not sure knows entirely how to navigate it. I don’t know if the album wants to act as a mirror or as a balm. But there is one thing for certain that Harrga recognizes and all abused women understand: in an interview Despentes puts it plainly, “Reality is upsetting.” It is indeed.
Purchase Femmes d'intérieur at the Cafe OTO website.
Still from Night Journey (Kim Soo-yong, 1977)
Thank you for reading the seventeeth issue of Tone Glow. We hope you’re doing alright. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others if you need to.
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