cw: some references to mental health stuff
One of the worst things about writing about music once a week is quickly realizing how little new music you actually listen to. For the last year or so I’ve always been slightly out of touch, discovering groups and genres two years too late yet still basing my personality around them (moment of silence for every friend who had to listen to me talk about WIXAPOL) – presumably to the detriment of whoever gets stuck listening to my internet rambles. My only real talent seems to be just taking a group of semi-popular musicians and shouting about them (first ironically and then in earnest) to my friends until they associate them with me – this point was illustrated perfectly both when my friend Oisín joked that he was happy to “have a vague clue” of what I was on about when I started gushing about Oli XL’s last NTS show and when my friend Jack ironically referred to Fleure by Autechre as “ill music” (which I’d like to imagine as a more depressing version of penis music). I take the same four albums and repeat them ad-infinitum for a week or two, repeating the same three or four conversation fragments to whoever’s floated into my life at that current moment – which may help me construct an online personality that conceals the fact that I’m actually an uncool, constantly anxious bastard but it really does not help me construct these blog posts.
As I write it’s half four in the morning, I was meant to start work on this piece at midnight but I managed to fall asleep while reading the last pages of Robin Mackay’s ‘#Accelerate’, a book that I won’t even pretend to fully understand (philosophy is wank and only Mark Fisher could be trusted with it). I have roughly seventeen hours to write this draft and that freaks me out a bit, mainly as it can take me up to six hours to come up with some coherent sentences about music and I really can’t be arsed being awake for all of them. At this stage of lockdown I’ve regressed back into nostalgia, revisiting the albums I got obsessed with in 2016 and sending concerningly frequent drunk texts where I shout at people about how profound they are. I guess I’m going to have to try doing something similar tonight, even if I don’t have enough mixer to make these paragraphs flow better (I’m still too weak to drink whiskey by itself, presumably as God hates me). I always end these introductions with a cutsey faux-apology for not writing about “actual” music – perhaps that’s something I should change to seem slightly less insecure. I’m going to write about albums that I fell in love with in 2016 each week until the end of lockdown and there’s fuck all you can do about it (besides getting mad at me on discord, which is scarily effective).
Katie Dey is an artist I’m actively scared of writing about – her work means a scary amount to me and I already know that I won’t be able to capture exactly why at this hour in the morning. I first found her work back in 2016 when my friend Romeo (who I had just met on InterPals, an objectively cursed website) sent me a link to her EP ‘asdfasdf’, unintentionally changing my life in the process. Now I’m not going to act as if songs like ‘don’t be scared’ or ‘all on you’ single-handedly prevented me from being an arsehole, but the experience of talking to Romeo (at that point my only full-on internet friend) about her music without the pretense or superiority complex inherent to the music forum I hung out on at the time pushed me towards being less misanthropic, something I’m extremely grateful of. Around the time that I first started texting Romeo, Dey released ‘Flood Network’ – her intense debut LP for Joy Void records. ‘Flood Network’ is an album that Sasha Geffen perfectly described as “fold[ing] somatic joy into waves of chaos and anxiety” – the record has next to no breathing space (seemingly by design) and demands your full attention as a result. Dey’s vocals are intentionally hard to discern, muffled in a bedroom somewhere in Australia, and ran through god knows how many layers of Kerovee. This inaccessibility (combined with the fact that whatever lyrics were released online ended up being heavily redacted) created a certain intimacy, with Jazz Monroe comparing the experience of listening to the record to “the voyeuristic thrill of hearing emotionally knotty music made to satisfy nobody but its author, sometimes at the audience’s exclusion”. I didn’t know exactly what lead up to the emotions that fuelled this album (and perhaps the internet shouldn’t know), but because of this fact I was able to spend hours repeating the same nine songs, discerning some form of meaning from them with some random Dutch friend I’d never met face to face. ‘Flood Network’ is an album that was unintentionally made for the internet – at its best it sounds like a computer dying while someone has a weird heart-to-heart with some stranger and that experience summarizes a scary amount of my life (and a scarier amount of these music posts). I’m finding it scarily hard to pick a song off this album to embed under this paragraph and hopefully pointing this out will make you go and listen to the full thing.
I only fully fell in love with Dey’s latest release ‘Solipsisters’ while shitfaced drunk around this time yesterday (it’s 5:36 in the morning as I get to this paragraph) and that fact makes me slightly embarrassed. I’m always quite temperamental with music to the point where I need to be in a certain headspace for a record to fully click – in other words, it’s hard for me to become obsessed with an album until I feel the urge to shout about it to concerned friends at 5:43 am. It took Dey nearly three years to release ‘Solipsisters’, this gap between releases unintentionally creates an interesting contrast when compared to her earlier works – the flood of emotions that made me obsessed with ‘Flood Network’ is replaced with something more mature and refined. You can actually discern what instruments are being played, things feel slightly less apprehensive, the tracks feel more individual (mainly due to the lack of transitions), and as Dey herself pointed out, there’s a “little space for the listener to be themselves within the album and be able to think within it”. Dey was apparently inspired by noted twink simulator ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ (a game I am still yet to finish after two years) and recognizing that fact is what made me finally appreciate this album. The emotions that made me send Romeo dumb text messages four years ago are still there, they’re just spaced out a bit and you have to use the ZeldaDungeon map to access them (that or you could just become a lightweight like me, both seem to work). For lack of a better way to put it, this album sounds like the experience of awkwardly bopping to a song in your room at half eight in the morning after not sleeping, or at least that’s how I usually end up listening to it.
And now this brings me to the paragraph that I keep on trying to write to friends while on the cans – the music video for ‘Stuck’ by Katie Dey is objectively one of the most cathartic pieces of media put online, to me at least. I feel as if to fully appreciate this fact I’m going to have to give some context of how Romeo and I misinterpreted her work – even if it makes me feel like someone who writes for ‘The Guardian’. Back when we spent all day texting one another about ‘asdfasdf’ and being utterly miserable, little to no information existed about Dey – outside of a few pieces and the distorted images of herself she used as album covers we knew feck all and perhaps she intended on keeping it that way. As a trans woman, Dey has talked in the past about her experience of gender dysphoria and how it’s morphed her art – the Kerovee-ridden vocals I talked about a few paragraphs ago weren’t an active artistic decision and more of an attempt to relieve dysphoria, “like putting an Instagram filter on your face” as she termed it. Because of this, the utter directness and simplicity of the music video make me feel an odd sense of catharsis – it’s just Dey singing along to her own song while cutting her hair yet the fact that she was able to record it gives me an odd sense of hope. Now I’m not going to claim that I have any idea of what gender dysphoria feels like (I mean after all I’m hopefully a cisgender male), but when Dey sings about being stuck inside a body that feels like “a rotting false construction” I’m reminded of a time where my life was defined by seeing how long I could go without eating (then feeling horrific for giving in), avoiding cameras (fun fact: I don’t think that there are any pictures of me that exist from like late 2016 to early 2019), and compulsively weighing myself (even if the numbers didn’t feel real or representative of anything). What I went through is objectively minuscule when I compare it with some of the shite my trans friends have to deal with on a daily basis and perhaps because of this, seeing Dey smile as she cuts her hair reminds me that there is some form of escape from these internal feedback loops – regardless of how stuck we feel. “It’s not all in your head, but most of it is. Best not to worry about it.”
A few days ago Romeo asked me to hop on a voice chat with him while he experienced the comedown from magic truffles, a (technically) legal psychedelic (at least in countries that aren’t as lame as Ireland) that apparently tastes really mank. This call was intended to last ten minutes (Romeo just wanted to explain a concept to me but found typing hard), but we ended up spending nearly three hours talking shite – mainly due to Romeo’s inability to keep a coherent train of thought and my inability to talk like a normal human being. This concept Romeo was trying to explain was “the girl on the train”, a vague memory of overhearing a girl excitedly talking about chemistry to some stranger on a train that somehow ended up impacting him profoundly (to the point where I’m like 50% sure one of the songs off his last EP was inspired by the experience). This trip had made my friend more of a nihilist than usual, with him remarking that he felt largely indifferent about life – with the only things offering him reasons to be excited being old acoustic Sam Ray demos and this vague memory of hearing someone be excited about chemistry on the way home from a Hatsune Miku concert. He didn’t seem actively suicidal but more indifferent (using a broken iPhone charger and the act of cleaning up vomit from the floor as a metaphor for the banal mundanity of continuing to live) – which was arguably more concerning than being gothic in a more traditional sense.
This call felt surreal for two reasons, firstly as it felt like the kind of conversation we had back in 2016 (this whole lockdown has felt like living through 2016 again as everyone’s back online) and secondly as for the longest time the experience of talking to Romeo was my “girl on the train” – at a time where I was a barely socialized prick, the idea of going home and getting to gush about ‘asdfasdf’ or ‘dc snuff film/waste yrself’ with someone who seemed infinitely cooler (yet somehow put up with my bullshit) was the main thing motivating me to stick around. I think I’m slightly better now (even if my writing implies otherwise) and I’d like to think that spending years getting to shout about music with him (and the other people who float in and out of my life) helped in some part, even if that’s a really sappy thing to write down.
When asked about whether she felt that “making and releasing music is a way of participating in community”, Dey remarked that “being so isolated, my sense of community is probably different to most people’s sense of community. Being on the internet primarily and not doing a lot of going outside due to a whole bunch of factors, like mental illness and disability and stuff, feels really desperate sometimes — just foisting yourself upon this stream, not wanting to be lonely.” and that “if your only way to be a person is singing weird songs […] the internet is one of the only options for you”. I feel an odd sense of community when I write these posts about weird songs and there’s something oddly poignant about that idea – I don’t know if I’ll end up sending this draft to Romeo (he said he enjoyed reading about himself in the third person during the call but this post is really pushing it), but whoever does end up reading this post means something to me, even if that’s really trite to admit. I always end up being a sappy bastard at the end of these music posts (perhaps in this case as it’s half eight in the morning), even if it comes off as very contrived. I got some sense of solace reading other people get excited by albums four years ago and I hope I can do something vaguely similar for someone else at some stage in the future – even if I can’t properly articulate this notion without ending the sentence with an “even if”.