Industrial pop having a mental breakdown.
Higher Plain Music’s album of the year 2019 went to Lupa J and her stunning Swallow Me Whole. It was an intoxicating mixture of electronica, pop, goth, synth and discovery. Despite this, Lupa J hasn’t sat still since its release with several post-album singles and then diving straight into her new album ‘To Breathe Underwater’. The majority of the album feels like a darker descent into the grimy world of mental confrontation that is more aggressive than her previous album. It revels in the noise and pulse of caustic beats and synths.
The crowning jewel of the album opens it. ‘Supermarket Riots’ is the perfect intro as its the most swallow-esque track on the album. The heavy beats, claustrophobic synths and catchy melodies effortlessly drip off the speakers. Along with the equally danceable ‘Obliterate’, the two tracks explore having to face yourself in the confinement of a pandemic lockdown. Calling out panic buying and the crazy domestic chaos whilst societies veneer still holds up, the former doesn’t like what goes on outside the front door, whilst the latter deals with the social media scroll going on inside. Both have a neon-clad techno-goth grizzle to them that I adore production wise – every beat and every note packs a punch.
This self-assessment of ‘the new normal’ (I now want to rip my eyes out for actually typing that – I’m so sorry) continues throughout the album even though some of it may not have been written during the pandemic at all. It is funny how art can remap itself onto new situations to take on new meanings and this album has that reflex built into it. ‘Perfect Weekend’ is a loud and brash slow-motion brake failure as arpeggios siren out over white noise tom drums. The whole song evokes that cinematic moment when you see a dramatic moment unfolding in slow motion and you just can’t stop it. ‘Call Them Up’ is a guttural industrial kick drum and subwoofer throbbing bass number straight out of industrial electronica 101. Sirens wail and Lupa J’s careful vocal detuning using a trusty vocoder feels like a nightmare disco of death. It pairs beautifully with the manic hell that is ‘To Become’. Here Lupa J mashes up aggressive buzzsaw blasts with wiry sirens that remind me of her violin chamber pop roots. The entire piece is an assault on the senses and a trip down a mental black hole.
Violin’s turned synth plucks are what makes the superb track ‘This Suburb’ sparkle and pop. After the density of six tracks, ending with the crazed hedonism of ‘Know Your Name’ that hits highs that The Prodigy would love, the lightness and melodic nature of ‘This Suburb’ feels like the only moment of homely warmth throughout the entire album. What is interesting is that even here, the final third of the track distorts into a fractured explosion of synths and noise. Closing track ‘You’ rounds off the album with cinematic synth ballad. It cleverly turns vocal samples into glass blowing wind flutes and nothing sounds like it should. The album as a whole is purposely disorientating and even when it calms down towards the end, that feeling not really being in familiar territory blazes brightly across your ears and brain.
‘To Breathe Underwater’ has been called a mini-album but the eight tracks here are powerhouses that rival most full-blown mammoths with ease. Lupa J has delved deeper and darker into her techno side and found it jams with her darker emotions of the world across 2020. Put simply, the album is a riot. Thankfully, you don’t need a supermarket to get it. A superb successor to one of my favourite albums of the last decade.
Recommended track: Supermarket Riots
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