Quasi-psychedelic electronic ballad
After hitting the Canadian music scene a few years ago with glitchy, club-oriented bangers (her first two EPs were entitled Death Drive and Bitchpunk, for what it’s worth), the Nigeria-born, Montreal-raised DJ-turned-musician Debby Friday unveils a gentler side with this single from her new album, Good Luck.
An electronic ballad with distorted backing vocals and washes of reverberant sound, “So Hard to Tell” centers on a soothing, circular melody that induced Friday to find a previously unutilized singing style; she usually hits the mic with a lower, speaking-voice-like register. This song finds her addressing and advising her younger self, which invited the vulnerable vocal–although she has said she was initially surprised by the sound coming out of her mouth here. There’s still some underlying glitch in the air, which to my ears is part of the appeal, as is the swirly, quasi-psychedelic atmosphere in general. It’s a hypnotic dream of a song, with a sturdy core but a tender spirit.
MP3 via KEXP. Good Luck came out March 24 on Sub Pop; the rest of the record is a good bit more forceful. You can check it out, and buy it (digital, vinyl, CD), via Bandcamp.
Buzzy and resplendent, “Connjur” is almost magically appealing, combining an earthy, decisive, Björk-y sort of electronica with airy, Cocteau Twins-like layers and harmonies and a touch of shoegaze swirl. Listen to the continual give-and-take between the yawning chasms of sound (distorting guitars?) at the bottom of the mix and the perky beat, with those sprightly vocals up on top—I love how that all works together somehow. I suspect that the way the melody is sung resolutely off the beat adds further to the music’s unearthly pull.
Unable to determine with any clarity what this song is about lyrically, I still feel a strong sense of its seriousness and its playfulness, and this is what moves me most of all. Rare is the work of art—whether music, poetry, prose, painting, sculpture, whatever—that combines the mystical and the fun, the deeply serious and the lighthearted. These guys seem to be after that sort of thing, and more power to them, says me.
School of Seven Bells is a Brooklyn-based trio composed of Ben Curtis, formerly of Secret Machines, and twins Alejandra and Claudia Dehaza, who both used to be in the band On!Air!Library!. They make their sound with two guitars and a bunch of electronics. “Connjur” (a great song title for the Google age) can be found on the group’s debut CD, Alpinisms, released at the end of October on the <a href="http://ghostly.com/"Ghostly International label. The album title comes from the 20th-century French writer René Daumal, himself a playful mystic. To Daumal, a student of Gurdjieff, “alpinism” was the art of climbing mountains (“in such a way as to face the greatest risks with the greatest prudence”), but mountains to Daumal were at once physical and metaphysical entities. His novel, Mount Analogue, is subtitled: “A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing,” and is about an expedition organized to seek and then climb a mountain that is, at the outset, asserted to be imaginary. That kind of story.