Lauren Bousfield – Palimpsest (Deathbomb Arc, 2020)

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot, more than ever, about my relationship with social media. Its greatest power, the ability to shine a light on subjects considered underrepresented, or perhaps even socially taboo, is matched only by its destructive potential and the force of anonymous pitchfork wielding legions. Echo chambers collaborate to make minority issues magnified, which has become both a blessing and a curse, bringing societal ignorance into the limelight, whilst also demanding action on an exaggerated scale.

The interesting thing about Electronic music, at a general level, is that it seems to have evolved with the developing pace of the modern world. BPM has been driven upwards over the years, genres like Glitch and Industrial probing ever further limits of aggression to match the ferocity that an electronic life has imbued within us. As the fervour of internet randoms has grown, as patience has decreased and political binaries have become more entrenched, the music of the time has developed with it.

Even Lauren’s last LP from 2013, Avalon Vales, feels almost tame now, and that was no pushover. Though who amongst us can say they haven’t changed in the intervening seven years, has not been sucked into the digital grinder and spat out the other side having been fomented with electronic diatribes? Despite my resistance I still find myself tied up in the angry, bitter discourse of this modern world, and if I could I suppose this would be the sound I’d make too.

Palimpsest is brimming, so much so that taking notes across its 31 minute span felt like a fever, words spilling out through my pen like an avalanche, forced by the assault of feelings and textures tumbling out of the record. Despite the feverish pace, the action was fluid, practiced, as though my hands knew what they wanted to say even before I did.

For me, I think there are two peaks in Palimpsest: the first is “Clean Strategic Narratives With Relatable Messaging Murder Them Violently Make Their Children Watch”. As in all the pieces, at odds with her previous material, the vocals are completely lost in the mix and processing, a supplementary backing force imbibed with meaning and value but lost amidst the tidal wave of noise that surrounds it. Its velocity increases carefully, building endlessly to an inevitable breaking point, a few careful piano strokes the transition into a mind-fucking explosion of strobing glitch and electronica, devolving into tortured noise bursting at the seams in angst.

The second is pre-release single “Crawling Into A Fireplace Cackling”, which contains some of the basic elements of the former, of crystal clear beats and careful crescendos; in fact it’s probably the most well paced and well developed tracks here. It dedicates its span to some misshapen apex, guided as it is by its own internal compass and external forces, slewing into staccato violins that stab restlessly before spiralling into oblivion, pushed over the brink into spasmodic textural overload.

The remainder of the record falls anywhere on the spectrum of suggestive to moderately extreme, and mostly with limited runtimes apropos of modernity’s short attention spans. “Another World Is Possible – Presented by US Bank” is the most reductive piece of the lot, sunk in weirdly groovy but creeping synths, slinking with muddied tones.

A few tracks have an older-school vibe like “Futurelessness” where the crooning vocals, held just at the surface, and miscellaneous electronica move with familiar, massive movements but without clear agenda. Sophomore “Adraft” runs in a similar vein as once mainstay lyrics slip behind the veil of weighty percussion and leaden synths, sentiments framed but barely seen behind ideology. The same is true in penultimate 4-minuter “A Joke Poorly Told” where bombast is forsaken in favour of an older-school sound that grinds orchestration lightly, pleasantly, into mulch. Straightforwardness, even at its peak here, finds itself subsumed by meta layers of meaning and despite its boldness in presentation, cannot seem to quite break through without interrogation.

Palimpsest is a great title for something that finds itself stuffed full with sentiments and ideas that has to constantly fight and overwrite not only that which surrounds it, but also itself. In a world where we endlessly find ourselves reading what others think (in of itself shifting sands of thought), how can we find the clarity of ourselves amidst this density? How can we use our voice for change when there is already no space for one? Where does ideology end and we begin? There is a justifiable anger here at times, but is it our own, fighting both for and against this mass of tribal energy. It’s a confusing, blistering assault, and it’s brilliant.