Silent Shout: The Cresting Waveform Wave Of Arca & SOPHIE, Plus New Music From Pop’s Fringes
Silent Shout is our recurring roundup of the latest in alt-pop. It might not be music for the masses, but — to paraphrase *NSYNC — this might be pop.
We’re living in a golden age of computer music. We’re finally hearing the type of mind-melting, dystopian bleep-bloop stuff people imagined the 2000s would sound like after Aphex Twin revolutionized techno and The Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk popularized it two decades ago. I’m not talking about EDM and dubstep, which get their own categories at this point. What I’m talking about, I guess you could call it waveform-wave, this peculiar, progressive type of electronic music that isn’t exactly dance music, but isn’t exactly ambient. Artists like Arca, Holly Herndon, The Haxan Cloak and SOPHIE are leading the charge, the latter of whom actually builds his songs like waveform sculptures.
Their music, while vastly different, simultaneously has a Kubrickian sterility and a heaving physicality to it, the sound of digital detritus disintegrating, congealing and approximating real-life objects: sub-bass rumbles, ultra-trebly scrapes, surround sound trickles, disfigured vocals. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about this stuff is that some of the artists have managed to make it infiltrate mainstream pop. Arca is tops in this regard, having worked with Kanye West, FKA twigs and Björk. The Haxan Cloak also worked on Vulnicura, and SOPHIE has collaborated with Charli XCX and LIZ.
As luck would have it, Arca and SOPHIE released a pair of new songs this week. Below, check out their two tracks plus more new music from the alt-pop world.
TALK ABOUT POP MUZIK
Arca — “Soichiro” SOPHIE — “MSMSMSM” These pioneers of the waveform movement are like bizarro versions of each other, using synthetic digital precision to illustrate the fluid and complex nature of sexuality and gender in pop music. Arca puts his sexuality front-and-center, and has created an androgynous alter ego for his music alongside body-horror CGI visuals, done by Jesse Kanda, that evoke the kind of visceral plasticity of H.R. Giger‘s Alien artwork. The overall effect is one of unease and anxiousness. Meanwhile, SOPHIE tweaks gender expectations from behind the scenes, giving his act a female name and only using helium-pitched female vocals. The result is a kawaii-adjacent, demented version of super-girly Y2K pop that demonstrates how off-putting something can appear when you focus on it hard enough.
Both”Soichiro” and “MSMSMSM” are somewhat formless, both give off a vague sense of unease and anxiousness, like those dreadful moments spent waiting for a hiccup to return. Both songs are decidedly not pop — though only one comes bundled with a dildo — but the fact that the people who made them have planted themselves in the pop establishment, that’s remarkable. It shows just how bold, inclusive and weird pop music has become.
GIRLI – “ASBOys” Here we have millennial brat-pop at its most obnoxious, and thus, finest. The London teen is clearly influenced by fellow Brits Charli XCX and M.I.A. — and John Lydon, too, based on that nasally sneer — but the way she herks and jerks over this slow-grind beat makes it her own unique creation.
DRELLER — “One Night Stand” At first glance, this London artist’s debut single sounds like R.A.M. as performed by Muse. But the love ’em and leave ’em anthem is actually pretty hard to pin down thanks to the emotive vocals and stylistic change-ups.
FOXTROTT – “Shaky Hands” Those Swizz Beats canned horns really overstayed their welcome at the turn of the millennium, but here Montreal multi-hyphenate FOXTROTT brings them back, to outstanding effect. Her economical use of horn bleats, handclaps and multi-tracked vocals hits with the weight of a much more overstuffed dark-pop arrangement.