Ever since 2011’s album Eifelian AGS has been composing abstract odes to long lost worlds. Eocene followed in 2018, and Therium is the latest addition to this thematic cluster. It doesn’t stray far from the formula of beautiful soprano wordless vocalizations (Erin Welton) over a shimmering tapestry of guitars, bass and drums (performed by Scott Ferrell). AGS is quite capable of making melodic structured pop songs—last year’s excellent XIII proved that. Therium sees the duo exploring post-rock soundscapes , like Sigur Rós—ambient music using traditional rock instruments. It’s best listened to as a song suite, but there are highlights. The halycon “Animalia” sounds like a lost track from Cocteau Twins’ Victorialand while the euphoric “Mammoth” and “Dire” have genuinely catchy hooks. Therium is the soundtrack for an imaginary film full of hypnotic imagery.
“Sea, Swallow Me” through a Lovecraftian lens.
My black and queer fantasy story “Sea, Swallow Me” is given the Lovecraft Reread treatment by the critic/authors Ruthanna Emrys and Anne M. Pillsworth. Thanks to them and Tor.com for putting new eyes on this piece.
The title of the piece comes from one of my favorite Cocteau Twins piece, and I always associate their heavenly music with the story, rather than Lovecraft (who probably wouldn’t be a fan of the homoerotic Negritude of the piece).
Anyway, check out An Ecstasy of Arrows: Craig Laurance Gidney’s “Sea, Swallow Me.”
MUSIC RECOMMENDATION: Azam Ali’s PHANTOMS.
Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I was a fan of ‘goth’ music, particularly the brand of melancholic, elegant and often female-centered ‘etherealwave.’ I adored the music of Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil—the whole 4AD label aesthetic of refined darkness. It was (and still is) a rarefied sound, full of poetic abstraction and shrouded in mystery. Azam Ali’s new album, Phantoms, recalls this dark and dreamy sound, though it’s filtered through the prism of darkwave, electronica and trip hop.
I’ve been following Ali’s music from the beginning of her career. She started out in the World/New Age duo Vas, where she put her own spin on glossolalia-styled vocalizations, a technique that Lisa Gerrard and Elizabeth Fraser mastered. Her next band Niyaz crafted elaborate electronic soundscapes using mystical Sufi poetry as lyrics. She also released an album of interpretations of sacred music (Portals of Grace), an album of Persian lullabies (From Night to the Edge of the Day) and was a member of the dark rock band Roseland (!) Ali’s voice is a beautiful instrument, a supple alto that can soar effortlessly into crystalline soprano heights. Her singing blends Persian, Indian and classical Western styles in a way that reminds me of the work of Sheila Chandra. An undercurrent of gothic melancholia runs through most of her work, even the more ‘world’ music pieces.
This gothic strain is front-and-center on Phantoms. (There’s even a cover of a Cocteau Twins song, “Shallow Then Halo,” from their gothiest first album Garlands). Ali’s lyrics are full of images of bleakness and regret, when you can understand them. Ali’s singing and enunciation treats English words as onomatopoetic devices, and she seems to be more interested in their phonemic qualities. Her use of her voice as an instrument really highlights the sleek electronic settings of the songs, which Ali programmed and produced herself. The sonic sculpture is as alluring as her voice, which is quite an accomplishment.
References: Portishead, Siouxsie Sioux, Massive Attack, Soho Rezanejad
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