Joanna Newsom and Evelyn Glennie collaborating on a cloud.
Dear Laika’s NNA Tapes debut ‘Pluperfect Mind’ is an album that plays with the concept of time. It is constantly shifting between fits and starts of energy, noise, chaos and rhythm as each song contorts in your ears. Sometimes it is beautiful. Sometimes it is discordant. Every time is alluring and majestic in its own way and makes ‘Pluperfect Mind’ one of the most intriguing albums in 2021.
The album was ecorded during lockdown but is more about gender transition and the mind games that sexuality and feeling comfortable in your own skin brings. Izzy Thorn took on a lot of these matters head-on during the lockdown and so whilst the album has a feeling of isolation, it’s layered sonically against not just the world but herself. This leads to a musical movement of synths, tuned percussion, digital choirs and caustic rhythms that bend and stretch over time. Take opening track ‘Lilac Moon, Reflected Sun’ for example. It starts off feeling assured of itself before slowing down to a painfully intimate crawl of soft voice and piano plinks. Then it unravels in an Evelyn Glennie cascade of crazy disorientating prepared piano plinks and pangs as the vocals gather anger and confusion. ‘Ubi Sunt’ takes this frantic pace to another level as layers of vocal motifs and galloping prepared pianos shift from melodic to haunting to haunted. ‘Guinefort’s Grave’ on the other hand is like an empty synth shell and tape warped hue that is chewing itself up. They don’t follow strict song structures but ebb and flow instead as emotional rollercoasters dive and soar.
Single ‘Phlebotomy’ slows everything down to a hazy digital choir that increasingly twists from celestial calm to outer and inner dissonance. It is a beautiful track that evokes the same passion and fragility of Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom. At the same time, the track keeps a Bjork-esque power to it the music too. This power is omnipresent through chaos and clarity and is the albums’ backbone. I think without it, the album would feel a bit directionless but instead, Dear Laika is clear – this is my path and my music will follow. It allows all the chaos to take place around a central theme – Izzy’s voice. Her voice is able to battle cry, spook and rock you to sleep and usually you’ll get all three in each track. ‘Black Moon, Lilith’ is one of the few straightforward ballad pieces on the album that merges fuzzy synths, piano and vocals together in a warm and chaotic way. It’s a vibe that imbues the entire album and reminds me of Katy Dey’s MyData from 2020.
Other tracks later in the album then play with tuned percussion as a ticking time bomb. ‘Asleep in Wildland Fire’ feels like an emotional turning point in the album where the beauty turns into something more damning. The percussion is taut, the synth brash, the ambient effects angry and cold. The album moves into a more ambient and classical tinged finale that ends with an epic title track. The eight-minute finale charts the entire album from choral vocals to ascending synths that drench into ambience. Gone are all the chaotic tuned percussion that have smashed around the previous 37 minutes of music – here it all gels. It’s the sole moment on the album where peace exists solely and completely and it’s a beautifully earned moment.
‘Pluperfect Mind’ definitely feels like a journey. It’s not an easy listen either but I’d have expected nothing less given the subject matter at hand. Dear Laika has crafted a sonic chaos that charts the dissonance of a human in this world to feeling whole and grounded again. It is deeply personal yet anyone can relate to feeling uncomfortable with something and wanting to find clarity in the grey. A fine album.
Recommended track: Phlebotomy
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