An aya DJ set can be both thrilling and disorienting, a dizzying maelstrom of jungle breaks, Dutch techno, British funky, South African gqom and who knows what else, as well as editions of Charli XCX and “Call Me Maybe”, for good measure. Synthesized voices offer bite-sized philosophical observations (“Google Street View allowed us to shrink geography,” proclaims a text-to-speech snippet amid his 2018 Boiler Room ensemble). Microphone in hand, aya could shout crowd-stirring interjections, urge supporters to vote Corbyn, or offer thoughtful commentary on her own tunes: The surrounding grime studded with cryptic references to hedonism and regret is to quit. Manchester – “probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she added, suddenly looking serious. On at least one occasion she’s surfed the crowd, oversized chains and tartan tiles snap as she falls into the hands of the crowd. The atmosphere goes from heady to humorous and returns with dizzying intensity; the bass is so physical you can feel it in your follicles.
Drawing on the club sounds of aya’s former alter ego, LOFT, and spanning the realms of concrete music, drones and gnarly puns, the London artist’s debut album from Huddersfield, I am a hole, takes his boundless energy and unbridled creative instincts into a new wild space. On record, his voice is either sharp and enveloped in the moist reverberation of a small damp tunnel, or digitally pulverized and dispersed to the winds. On paper – the physical edition of the album is a cloth bound book – its lyrics take the form of carefully composed poems including finger spelling mistakes (“once gone west ypp off ur chesdt my ribssn embpdty ship, abeadt slippd an ekxtra stuttr fluttr middle th wrestl alll souffle losstt “) reflect their origin as notes typed on her phone in what she described as states of” transient psychosis “.
aya’s previous releases were part of more or less familiar traditions of experimental club music. “A flash gun for a fortnight”, from last year Physically ill 3 compilation, recalls the intricate jewel-toned bass investigations of labels like Wisdom Teeth, where LOFT released a debut EP in 2017. The cartoonish vocal treatment of last year’s playful “delishus” sounds like a tribute to SOPHIE’s songs like “Lemonade” and “Dur.” But on I am a hole, some of aya’s playfulness died down, giving way to a psychedelic and steely intensity.
The opening track, “somewhere between the 8th and 9th floors,” traces strange new territory. Above an icy microtonal explosion – recorded with her phone in the stairwell between the eighth and ninth floors of her old building, where the wind screaming through a shattered window created a strange electronic effect – she intones a singing incantation in a witchy pipsqueak: “Me, more, me, more, me, more.” Red or blue, me, plus, red or blue, red or blue. Red shoes or blue shoes! Red shoes or blue shoes! It sounds less like a song and more like a spell cast. And at the end of the track, a magical transformation has taken place, a transformation that introduces the autobiographical theme that gives this puzzling and enveloping album personal gravity to balance its dazzling sonic fireworks: “Last year, I came back from a hole / With a broken thumb / And a note on my phone / Four words, “she croaks, her voice digitally scrambled:” You / Vibe / Hath / Changed. “
The change runs deep into the fabric of the album. Sounds change shape in the air; the rhythms are transformed; the stamps are transformed. aya favors volatile textures reminiscent of blown glass, oily concrete and trembling Jell-O, but the provenance of a given sound is rarely clear. On “What if I were to fall asleep and slip underneath,” her voice takes on a gritty, fluctuating hum, as if whistling through the rotors of a rotating electric fan. On the instrumental “dis yacky”, the crows croak to dangerously arrhythmic breakbeats as a gummy acid bassline desperately tries to hold the song’s jagged fragments together. Even at the most physical level of music – like the tinnitus and nausea cocktail of scathing highs and “tailwind” oozing sub-bass – it’s as subdued as his music sounded; are rarely more than a handful of items in play at any given time. A few pieces are essentially spoken poetry over industrial pounding and buzzing sounds – or Publish-industrial, seemingly inspired less by the dilapidated factories of northern England than by the menacing beating of this century’s sprawling underground server farms.
The lyrics are presented as blurry snapshots of everyday life and nocturnal follies; the writing is dense but light, jumping over tangled internal rhymes like a sailboat riding hard, choppy waves. Drugged allusions and sneaky double meanings abound, and his twisted pun eliminates the stealth and slippage of sex with surprising precision. I am a hole can be darkly funny – “Oh le chaume / Oh begone / You unholy cont,” she lashes out at “OoB Prosthesis,” lamenting the indignity of unwanted hair – and she has a knack for zooming in on vivid details that crystallize a whole constellation of feelings. In “3.36”, a poem included in the accompanying book, she stays awake late at night, ketamine in her system, buzzing at the sensation of her fingers brushing her ears: fantano reviews Billie Eilish.
But despite the quick wit of his writing and the fiery force of his drums, a dull ache is often palpable. The title of the album plays on totality and physical orifices but also on emptiness. Trans person, aya struggles with her words against dysmorphia and struggles with irreconcilable binaries (“If I was one or the other / I could half choke / Mum myself to laugh at sickening health “). Even sexual pleasure is enveloped in existential pain: “Come and find me undercover / Come on, we could create a vacuum for each other”, she suggests on “What if I had to fall asleep and slip me under ”, a digital vocal fry scraping against the bass as reflections of polished latex. But there are also moments of tenderness. On the brooding “I still taste the air” she pays a wistful visit to an ex-lover and, despite the lingering sadness of the meeting (“Its once rippling, throbbing dimensions / Sit down now / Bound, dull”) , she comes back serene, “in a way lighter”, sure of knowing that “one night is enough to know where the roots are”.
Navigating between club sounds and psychedelic states of mind, assembling brain-rearranging rhythms to topple them into a confusing heap, I am a hole stages a delirious tussle between pleasure and discomfort, between the bodily embrace of dance music and the bottomless abyss of the mind. In the closing backsliding, aya portrays an image of a late night narcotic session, a blur of rolled up tickets and a tunnel vision on some of the album’s most confusing productions, where a sub-rhythm. heavy dissolves in masked icy streaks. dissonance. Like all significant drug experiences, she associates temporary loss of self with the search for something. Following– in this case, the simple discovery that “some nights, the light strikes just right”. Electronic music is often based on the idea of getting lost on the dance floor. Corn I am a hole explores a deeper and more refreshing sense of loss; it is an ode to the new self that is formed when the old one collapses. As aya sings it in the opening track, “Straighten your shoulders, love / Can your head / And don’t forget to breathe.”
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