pop without any semblance of an emotional filter

As lockdown drags on I’m slowly just zoning out into my own little mundane space and perhaps that’s optimal for me. Life has taken on its own odd rhythm – day melts into night (and into the next morning), weeks are now defined by the time wedged between blog post deadlines and reading group sessions, and I’ve spent a concerning amount of time reading outside (or just thinking about reading outside, basically the same thing). I’m gradually just disconnecting from the wider world (to the point where my anxiety now mainly flares up during Zoom meetings, presumably just to remind me that it still exists) and I’ve begun to embrace being totally out of touch – I’m probably a boomer and I don’t particularly care anymore. Now this’d be great if I didn’t base my personality around listening to a lot of “new” (read: barely underground and covered on hundreds of better blogs) music yet it feels as if I’ve just regressed into rediscovery – why bother listening to something new when you can just listen to something you thought was cool for a total of five minutes two years ago? Whenever I do end up drinking (usually whenever lockdown dread seeps in and I have more than twenty negative thoughts in an hour) I become obsessed with this idea of revisiting certain albums and artists – it feels as if I just pencil in appointments every three-to-four days to shout about albums I haven’t heard in ages and my friends just have to sit there and pretend to hold an active interest (or any idea as to what I’m on about). Unsurprisingly, this brings us to the first record I’m going to talk about this week – this time last night I was shouting about this record and I hope that I’m able to explain as to why that was the case. It turns out if I put a little sentence at the end of each introduction where I point out how formulaic my work is getting that suddenly makes it endearing and humorous – at least for the first month anyway.

I feel as if I’d be doing ‘3’ by Mom (an alias of Bandcamp shouty electronic music icon Devi McCallion) a disservice if I referred to it as a “raw” or “minimal” record – the album uses tacky MIDI presets and a Roland MC-505 to deliver oddly-sugary bursts of dysphoric emotion and I can’t write about that fact without seeming extremely pretentious. ‘3’ seemingly channels the manic “I will shove my hand down a shredder” energy of early Xiu Xiu releases and shoves it through a bloated Windows 98 install – the production is beautifully simple and compliments the neurotic, seemingly hyperactive nature of the lyrics. I remember people (inaccurately) describing ‘Visions’ by Grimes back in the day as sounding like a teenager pouring their heart out over a cheap keyboard they snuck home from school – ‘3’ is an amazing record as it perfectly captures what that hypothetical teenager’s work would sound (and feel) like. Its just pop without pretension, the sheen of digital (over)production, any semblance of an emotional filter, and some form of apology for existing and that’s exactly what I needed at a certain stage of my life. One of my favourite cuts off this album is ‘A.T Field’, an ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’-inspired power pop banger that arguably soundtracked a particularly bleak melty-brain moment a few summers back – I remember staring at the floor of a shower somewhere in Clare frantically trying to assign some meaning to this urge to desolidify “and not do anything at all”, looping the same song over and over and pretending to understand it so I could pretend to understand myself. Ironically enough that’s probably what I’m doing with these weekly music posts, but like with more unfunny Discord screenshots and irrelevant hyperlinks – as to whether this is an improvement or not is up to the jury to decide.

Now this would be the point where I’d embed the music video for ‘A.T Field’ but as I write this piece it’s just after being taken down (along with all of Devi’s videos) as part of some dumb internet drama that you’re probably sick to death of hearing about (but I’m going to write about anyway). Devi is one half of Black Dresses, an intense internet band whose sound has been described as being like “horrible quality screamo music that would play in the tutorial videos for Roblox” by people who dislike them. Black Dresses were finally getting some attention from the wider “Arseholes who base their personalities around music” community with ‘Peaceful as Hell’, garnering a rave 9/10 review from noted non-grifter Anthony Fantano and the future ire of all those people on Irish Twitter who think they’re comedic geniuses for getting mad at 100 gecs songs. This apparent e-fame came at a cost – in this case underaged ‘Homestuck’ cosplayers making horny TikToks to a song of theirs that was literally about the experience of being a child sex abuse victim. Once this was pointed out it seems as if Twitter just descended into waves of meaningless 2015 Tumblr-level discourse, with people getting mad at the group for not being minor friendly for reasons I refuse to look into enough to understand. This lead to the band understandably getting sick of everyone’s shite, taking their music off streaming services, and hastily announcing a breakup.

One of the main things about this Black Dresses drama that struck me was how much every single detail of it made me want to log off and go live in the forest. The fact that I had to find out that there was a Homestuck cosplay community on Tiktok was bleak enough, let alone the fact that said community can (apparently) harass vaguely cool bands out of existence through sheer discourse alone. The three algorithms that govern a solid ninety-percent of what we look at online seem to love these artificial faux-disputes, if someone asks a question the top reply will always be some gowl angrily calling them a Trotskyist and if someone enjoys anything ever there’ll be thread upon thread dissecting every minute detail to prove them wrong. Now this isn’t a critique of so-called “cancel culture”, because cancel culture does not exist – there are no consequences, there’s no real meaning, and there’s no escape – just impotent rage channeled in trivial directions until the planet melts. We’re stuck living out the same three or four pieces of artificial Tumblr discourse for the rest of our lives and pretending that we actively care about it when the algorithm shoves it in front of our faces.

None of these “conversations” (read: petty call-out threads and extremely vague subtweets) are either enjoyable or meaningful to any party involved, nobody is acting in good faith and nobody is getting anything out of it. While researching this paragraph I found a tweet where someone blamed Anthony Fantano for this shitshow and I feel like that perfectly encapsulates the utter futility of this “discourse” – there’s nothing quite like getting mad at some random internet personality about people who get mad at random internet personalities! In a message posted to her Instagram Devi ironically thanked her fans for their “repulsive parasocial stalker rage” and I feel as if this term perfectly summarizes what social media enables. We not only project an artificial friendship with the musicians we like, but we also go batshit insane when that feeble projection fades and disregard the fact that an actual person made the art we obsess over. Now obviously I am totally not guilty of doing this the whole time – hence why you should read all of my blog posts and pretend that we know one another.

In order to seem slightly less Mad Online(TM) I felt like it would be nice to end this week’s post with a little ramble about Klein, a south-London based experimental composer and singer that I’m embarrassed to have only discovered during lockdown. Klein’s music is really interesting to me due to how alluringly shambolic it is – Mark Fisher once aptly described James Blake’s discography as being like “a ghost gradually assum[ing] material form” and I feel as if Klein’s music does the opposite (and that’s why you should listen to it). Waves of possible songs float in and out abruptly over layers of industrial noise and static, never forming fully yet still making their presence known. I didn’t know which song to feature for this piece so I ended up going with ‘Witch’, one of her earliest (and poppiest) songs and one that I can’t find on Soulseek for the life of me. ‘Witch’ consists of two seemingly different and deformed beats (for lack of a better word) abruptly strewn together over barely audible (yet highly emotive) vocals. I’ve always found this song oddly comforting in spite of its lack of any real structure – this song just shouldn’t work but the fact that it does feels actively cleansing. There’s no real way to know what you’re headed into when you first listen to Klein (and your first experience will be mildly infuriating), but the longer you live inside the world she evokes the cosier it seems. I don’t have to make sense of this song and that’s why I love it. That or I’m just obsessed with glitchy vocal samples and just needed an easy cop-out to end this piece with because I’m a hack. Who knows? Not me anyway.