Deconstructed Dance Music / Houndstooth / September 25, 2020 – Reviewed by Jon Lindblom
Sophia Loizou is a great artist working in the post-rave sonic spaces of hauntology and deconstructed dance music. Her debut LP Chrysalis (2014) was a dark little gem built around heavy and noisy synthetic transformations of acoustic instrumentation, whereas the follow-up Singulacra (2016) revisited pirate radio transmissions hauntology-style, and the EP Irregular Territories (2018) offered a fascinating take on deconstructed jungle. Her latest album, Untold, explores the intersection between nature and technology, also as part of a larger multi-disciplinary project oriented around the ambition to construct various speculative perspectives of the Earth beyond that of the human, and that also includes lectures, an AV-show, as well as a book entitled A Tellurian Memorandum with poems written by Loizou accompanied by an additional 30-minute recording.
Since I did not buy the book, or have had a chance to experience the other parts of the project aside from the great video extract (see below) released by Loizou’s label Houndstooth (from an audio-visual collaboration between Loizou and the visual artist Annie Tådne entitled Tellurian Visions), I cannot really say anything about the larger conceptual scope of the project that Untold is part of. Although the visual side of Tellurian Visions certainly looks fascinating based on the extract, as well as the music video for the track ‘Anima’ that also features visuals by Tådne. What I like about the visuals in particular is how they integrate the realist with the abstract, or the documentary with the formal, by utilising the perspectival shifts of formal technological experimentation as a means for constructing compellingly estranging aesthetic perspectives of the Earth that are familiar yet alien at the same time. As it says in the description that accompanies the album: ‘Depicting a series of speculative sonic landscapes; animals, ocean waves and weather systems are abstracted into eco-centric cyber-dreams creating powerful ambient compositions that invite us to see the Earth through the eyes of others.’ Additionally, while never mentioned specifically, I wonder what kind of epistemic import perspectival shifts of this kind could have in the current era of climate change – which, I think, partly has come about because of mankind’s inability to emancipate itself from its ingrained, first-person perspective and look at the Earth differently.
When it comes to the sonic register of the project’s engagement with the natural world, I am somewhat less convinced – for even though Loizou apparently has built the album around plenty of samples from the latter, it is not very evident – at least not to this listener – that this is in fact the case (i.e. had I not read about it beforehand, I do not think I would ever have made the connection), which I think is a bit of a problem given the centrality of this theme to the project as a whole. However, even setting the larger conceptual register aside and looking just at the compositions as such, Untold has a lot to offer. As someone who thinks that Loizou’s previous release, Irregular Territories, is her best to date, it is great news that the sonic profile of this record is very similar to that 2018 EP. The hazy ambient sounds that feel kind of cold and warm at the same time returns, as well as the fragmented jungle breaks that I, as a fan of deconstructed dance music, found most compelling with Irregular Territories. They are a bit more restrained this time, but nevertheless equally fascinating. This is what I find particularly compelling about Loizou’s two latest releases: what I previously have characterised as deconstructed dance music’s formal repurposing of established dance music sounds through what I referred to as formal plasticity and synthetic formalism. And Loizou’s utilisation of jungle on Untold and Irregular Territories is indeed a great example of that – in terms of how she morphs and uproots the familiar jungle breaks from their natural habitats, and inserts them into a different sonic landscape that, at least in my book, goes beyond mere pastiche. Hence, it is the more rhythm-driven tracks on Untold that I like the most – particularly ‘Vestal Waters’ and ‘Hypnotik’, which both are as good as the best tracks on Irregular Territories.
The major new addition to Loizou’s sound this time is vocal elements; although not traditional singing, but rather heavily processed vocals that are used more for texture and mood. It is a nice addition that obviously amplifies the synthesis of organic and artificial that is important to Loizou’s work, even if it at times sounds a lot like Burial because of the similarly spectral/angelic tone of the vocals. This also points to a more general reservation I sometimes have against Loizou’s music: that it now and then feels quite similar to the sonic landscapes already covered by parts of the hauntological canon (particularly Singulacra and its obvious similarities with V/Vm’s The Death of Rave (2006)). But while I occasionally do have these reservations, I also think that there are other aspects of her music (such as what I mentioned above) that are more original and that indeed play a prominent role on Untold. Hence, despite this and my other reservation about the sonic articulations of the project’s underlying theme, this is nevertheless a release that overall elegantly showcases what I like about Loizou’s music in general: ambient, foggy soundscapes interwoven with formal reworkings of classic jungle rhythms into a compelling, deconstructed offspring.