Reviews Search

People Like Us, "COPIA"

CopiaThis latest album from Vicki Bennett, her first since 2018, is a characteristically dizzying and multilayered collage fantasia drawn from her currently touring AV performance "The Library of Babel." Fittingly, the album title has a dual meaning (either "abundance" or "copy"), but the deeper conceptual vein lies in the AV performance's title nod to a Jorge Luis Borges short story. In that story, "isolated librarians" struggle to "find meaningful texts amidst an overwhelming number of nonsensical or irrelevant books." Naturally, that nicely mirrors our own existential struggle to make sense of life while drowning in vast amounts of information, which Bennett colorfully portrays as "a journey through cinema and sound where the actors are set adrift from their story, left with pure experience." Fans of Bennett's previous work will find a lot of familiar samples, melodies, and themes set adrift from previous songs as well, as COPIA feels like a fever dream tour of the project's discography distilled into one memorably unhinged plunge down the psychedelic rabbit hole. Such self-cannibalism is very much in character for the project, of course, but a few of COPIA's fresh variations on a theme rank among Bennett's most mesmerizing work.

Cutting Hedge

The album is billed as a plunge into "profound realms of existential collage and sampling" in which Bennett and her many collaborators (Ergo Phizmiz, Matmos, etc.) celebrate the gleeful appropriation and recontextualization of our shared pop culture "as expressions of timeless connectivity." I mention that last part because the project can seem fun and kitschy on its surface, but Bennett rightly sees herself more like a folk artist, collecting meaningful fragments of culture and recombining them in alternately amusing, insightful, and poignant ways. In particular, Bennett has always seemed especially drawn towards American and British pop culture moments from the mid-20th century that portray society in romanticized, innocent, or utopian ways and that remains true here, as COPIA is teeming with kaleidoscopic fragments of iconic Disney moments, easy listening crooners, Motown, snatches of The Wizard of Oz, and the wide-eyed optimism of songs like Percy Faith's "A Summer Place" and Jackie DeShannon's "What The World Needs Now." It is hard to say how much of COPIA's source material has previously surfaced (somewhere between "most of it" and "all of it," I think), but the context is definitely a new one, as this album feels like a delirious longform hallucination rather than a collection of discrete songs.

That said, there are still some great individual pieces lurking within Bennett's mind-bending technicolor fantasia. To my ears, the best of the lot is "LSD Cha Cha," as Bennett packs a tight 3-minute collage full of stuttering brass hooks, sensuous and swaying grooves, chopped and ghostly vocal hooks, jabbering electronic weirdness, and a healthy dose of submerged and mangled Jackie DeShannon. Elsewhere, "Nature" is a delightfully bleary swirl of jazzy and sentimental easy listening favorites bleeding into one another. The unifying theme of the samples loosely seems to be references to stars, but there are a number of cool surprises like an outro that sounds like backwards Gregorian chants and a poignant sample of "don't they know this is the end of the road?" that nicely cuts through the plunderphonic fog of decontextualized pop hooks. "You Wish" is yet another instant classic and it appears in two separate forms (a "Dark World mix" and a "Babel mix"). I am tempted to say that the "Dark World" version goes on a bit longer than I would've liked, but it would probably be more accurate to say that the curdled and disorienting repurposing of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "When You Wish Upon a Star" makes me feel like I am uncomfortably trapped inside a horror movie. That said, it does feature an extremely cool interlude in which the word "wish" is looped into a groove and I was very entertained by the well-placed snippet of John Lennon proclaiming "nothing is real." The "Babel Mix" seems to reprise all the same samples, but feels more tight, fun and Latin-tinged (though it also feels like a cascade of flickering pop culture memories experienced at the moment right before death).

For the most part, however, the merits of any individual piece on COPIA are beside the point, as the whole album has the immersive feel of drowning in a vivid cacophony of cultural quicksand while also careening back and forth through time. Some passages are beautiful, some are funny, some are disturbing, and others feel uncomfortably manic, over-caffeinated, or actively annoying, which I suppose makes it an impressively representative mirror for Western culture. Notably, Bennett and her collaborators ingeniously blur the lines further by obsessively reprising some motifs throughout the album and singing passages that appear in sampled form elsewhere: everything is both comfortingly familiar and disorientingly unfamiliar at the same time.

In short, COPIA is a disorienting mindfuck from start to finish and I feel like my brain has been rewired (or at least further broken) in some new way every single time I emerge from a full-album immersion. I can only imagine that the experience is even more intense when accompanied by the full Tower of Babel visual accompaniment, as the album alone hits some truly operatic levels of intensity (and of gleeful indulgence, best illustrated by the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink lunacy of "Hymn to Collage"). Given that, COPIA is probably not the ideal People Like Us album for new listeners, but it certainly makes for compelling art and feels like a culmination of Bennett's life's work. If COPIA had been made by an artist who was less of an unpredictable and mischievous visionary, it would probably have the feel of a greatest hits album, but Bennett has instead pried open a Pandora's Box of our shared cultural stories and allowed them run amok, go feral, and cross pollinate. That can certainly feel messy, crazy, and overwhelming at times, but life can feel that way too and Bennett is an exceptionally entertaining and insightful guide for a lysergic descent into the unknowable depths of the human psyche.

Listen here.