Rrose, "Hymn to Moisture"

Sunday, 22 December 2019 00:00 Anthony D'Amico Reviews - Albums and Singles
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I suppose I have been probably been aware of Rrose since the project first appeared back in 2011, but the electronic music scene is teeming with hot new trends and hip new producers that come and go all the time and I lack the time and will to keep up with them all.  If someone is doing something genuinely interesting, I tend to find out about it eventually and I can live with being a little late to the party.  That said, there were obviously some signs that Rrose was different right from the start (the mysterious alter ego, the nod to Marcel Duchamp, etc.).  It was not until she recorded a James Tenney piece, however, that I realized that this project was something considerably weirder and more ambitious than I would ever have expected.  Happily, Rrose's trajectory has only gotten more unpredictable and intriguing since, arguably culminating in a recent collaboration with Charlemagne Palestine.  It was her series of collaborations with Lucy (as The Lotus Eaters and otherwise) that ultimately drew me fully into Rrose's fitfully stellar discography though.  Much to my delight, this debut solo full-length (after nearly a decade of EPs and collaborations) is roughly in the same vein as those Lucy collaborations, as Rrose continues to perfect her potent mix of deep bass, heavy rhythms, and warped, hallucinatory electronics.

Eaux

In the past, I have periodically made a point of mentioning that artists can get away with some incredibly indulgent and outré ideas if a piece is grounded in a strong enough rhythm.  Few artists manage to pull off that balancing act quite as seamlessly as Rrose, however, as the best pieces on Hymn to Moisture make it seem like the most natural thing in the world.  Nowhere is that perfect balance better illustrated than in the opening "Mine," as dubbed-out percussion and a relentless bass throb insistently propel the piece forward even as the foreground is consumed by something resembling a sickly, out-of-tune music box.  By the time the piece reaches its final minutes, it has stealthily become an ugly, smeared cacophony of warped and dissonant church bells.  The overall effect is akin to being inexorably drawn into a black hole so slowly that I do not fully grasp what is happening until I am spat out the other side into the depths of hell.  Whether a mind-dissolving and phantasmagoric descent is the ultimate destination or merely a stop on the way to somewhere else varies from piece to piece, however, as does the character of the sounds conjured up along the way.  For the most part though, Rrose is quite fond of hypnotically repeating bass loops, curdled melodic fragments, and industrial-inspired textures.  When all three of those elements are intertwined, the results tend to be almost invariably heavy, mesmerizing, and wonderful.  In the handful of cases in which one or more elements of that perfect trinity are omitted, the results are a bit more ambiguous, though the slowly pulsing title piece closes the album with a pleasantly trance-inducing immersion in a moonlit field of lysergic crickets.

For the most part, however, nearly all of the strongest pieces occur in rapid succession on the album's first half.  The sole significant exception to that trend is the mercilessly thumping "Dissolve," which slowly blossoms into a heady maelstrom of gurgling textures, electronic chirps, and ping-pong percussion.  It is a hell of a piece, but it is separated from the early album hot streak by the grinding and simmering "Saliva," which is understated enough to feel like an interlude rather than a fully formed piece.  Before that brief lull in intensity, however, Rrose follows the lead-off "Mine" with two more gems in the form of "Bandage" and "Columns."  On "Bandage," a woozily swaying and sickly synth pulse smears and undulates as a gnarled groove stealthily gathers force in the depths.  Eventually, it blossoms into a wonderfully panning, skittering, and off-kilter percussion work-out, which is roughly the inverse trajectory of its predecessor ("Mine").  The following "Columns," on the other hand, comes right out of the gate with a heavy, almost Latin-sounding rhythm and steadily burrows deeper and deeper into an intensifying miasma of trash can percussion, whirring machines, and still more diabolically dissonant music box melodies.

That feeling of relentlessly tunneling into an increasingly warped and hallucinatory state is what keeps bringing me back to Rrose's work, as I cannot think of anyone else who so skillfully blurs the lines between experimental music and the dancefloor.  It is quite rare for an artist to be so comfortably at home in both of those worlds, as most producers who ride that line tend to skew heavily to one side or the other.  As much as I dig Rrose's aesthetic, however, it is truly the masterful execution that sets this project apart: the rhythms are propulsive and visceral, the tension simmers beautifully, and the textures are vivid and imaginative.  Moreover, the slow-burning mindfuckery always feels weirdly natural, as if reality just happens to be slowly dissolving around the ceaseless and unchanging forward motion of the deep, throbbing bass lines.  Of course, there are a lot of moving parts that need to be patiently and subtly manipulated to create such an appealing illusion and that lightness of touch is where Rrose shines brightest.  In fact, one of my only real critiques of Hymn to Moisture is that some songs are a bit too understated to fully catch fire.  The flipside to that, however, is that Rrose never makes a clumsy or false move, nor does she ever seem at all susceptible to current tropes and trends.  Aside from that, my only other quibble is that I am not sure why Hymn to Moisture needed to be a full-length: Rrose has had quite a killer run of EPs thus far and this album could have been grist for two or three more.  Instead, Hymn feels a bit overstretched, even if it is a coherent and thoughtfully sequenced statement.  Fortunately, I think most humans are able to enjoy music without a constant critical narrative running through their heads, so a more sane and healthy take on this release is probably “Wait-there are four great new Rrose songs on just one release?  Brilliant."  As such, I suppose Hymn To Moisture is a solid place to start for curious listeners, even if it is less of a culmination than it is yet another smattering of gems in a career synonymous with inventive, forward-thinking dance mutations.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 22 December 2019 14:22