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Aïsha Devi - DNA Feelings Music Album Reviews

Aïsha Devi - DNA Feelings Music Album Reviews
The Swiss producer reframes electronic music as a mode of spiritual searching on an album that deemphasizes grooves and lyrics in favor of icy, alien sounds and high, inscrutable cries.

Most electronic music chases the motion of the body, but Aïsha Devi is more interested in the subtle noise that rises from the body in stillness. Since dropping her Kate Wax moniker and co-founding the label Danse Noire, the Swiss producer has intertwined her experimental computer compositions with her meditation practice. She doesn’t make dance music; she makes music that sounds like the body forgetting itself, losing feeling in the extremities as mind and breath conjoin.

Devi’s 2015 album, Of Matter and Spirit, dissolved her classically trained voice in an unsteady sea of echoing electronics, testing the line between human and machine. Her second album under her given name, DNA Feelings, delves even deeper into the abstract. It’s a chilling listen, with few grooves or lyrics to grab ahold of, and its icy alien angles prove Devi’s patience and boldness. Few producers have this much restraint.

Like contemporaries Holly Herndon, Arca, and Fatima Al Qadiri, Devi would rather denature established song forms than adhere to them. Her voice still suffuses DNA Feelings, typically in one of two modes: high, inscrutable cries serrated with vocal effects or confrontational spoken words. Neither performs the voice’s usual role as an entryway into an electronic piece. If anything, the vocal parts are more alienating than the restless, intermittent drum beats and the cascades of synthesizer notes. Devi’s voice resists contextualization. It does not tell a story so much as it embeds itself in each song’s architecture.

A well-trained voice confers power; it reveals an investment in a hierarchy of skill and allows the singer to ascend that hierarchy. To warp a trained voice, then, is to interrogate power, a project Devi seems eager to undertake, however subliminally, on DNA Feelings. The advance single “Dislocation of the Alpha” centers Devi’s filtered speaking voice, which follows a rhythm but is not quite a rap, as she issues an oblique call to disidentify with the oppressors of the world—to starve out the “alpha” by denying him affinity. The method of listening this album demands disrupts the typical flow of identification from listener to musician. Left marooned in a field of sound, without many handholds, you start to question how and why you automatically identify with certain music.

The best thing an album like DNA Feelings can do to you is make you feel lost, and it does, frequently. “Light Luxury” tears its vocals to ribbons, then chases its uneasy introduction with a seasick synth riff so high-pitched it borders on the range of microphone feedback. “Aetherave” marries a placid, aquatic arpeggio to a bassline quivering at twice its speed. “Inner State of Alchemy” perforates a club beat with gaping pauses, and lets its sky-high vocal refrain, laced with trance reverb, hang in empty space. The lack of a beat under the track’s most melodically gripping moment is like a trap door giving way beneath your feet, a collapse of context. The voice is beautiful and urgent and falling through a void.

The album’s strangest and most striking moment arrives on “Time (Tool)” and continues into “Time Is the Illusion of Solidity.” “If you name me, you negate me,” says an echoing robotic voice. “You’ll unravel your ghostly matter, have visions of alchemy. You will smile when you die. You will not name me. I am the prophet and you are me.” These words come unaccompanied by music at first, then reappear in “Time Is the Illusion of Solidity” shrouded by ambient groans and synthetic church bells. They carry the weight of a sermon, and yet their meaning is impressionistic. Devi suggests another way of eluding power; by refusing a name, shedding markers of individuality, you also refuse surveillance and social control. You unstitch yourself and become more than a citizen of a technocratic hell-state.

Real human power, DNA Feelings suggests, lies not in the individual but in the collective—in the confusing of “you” and “me,” in the blurry region outside language, structure, and time. By reconceptualizing electronic music as a mode of spiritual searching, Devi alchemizes confusion into healing. To be without context is to be given a chance to start anew.

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