On her third album, the Queens experimental musician explores the way women’s voices can challenge the norms of taste and decorum and push past the boundaries of accepted musical language.
Alexandra Drewchin’s music as Eartheater deals in opposing forces. Her songs interlace acoustic instruments, like guitar and violin, with harsh electronic drums and eerie synthesizer figures; she tends to juxtapose startling beauty with cutting ugliness. Her third album, IRISIRI, exacerbates the contrasts she set up across her first two records. Where her previous albums, Metalepsis and RIP Chrysalis (both released in 2015), were often hypnotic and ambient, IRISIRI demands a new kind of attention. It’s the sort of record that lulls listeners into a trance only to snap them out of it with a blast of noise or an incongruous shriek.
From crackling vinyl samples to electric guitar loops, IRISIRI boasts a wide variety of clashing textures. Certain moments, like the stuttering “MTTM,” find kinship with Nicolas Jaar’s searching grooves, while “C.L.I.T.” has enough of a rock edge that it could be an EMA track run through a centrifuge. Drewchin delights in scrambling genre signifiers, but it’s her vocal work on this album that breaks the most rules. She knows that a scream is not in itself an act of defiance, and that there are other sounds a voice can produce—especially a woman’s voice—that jut past the boundaries of accepted musical language.
Drewchin sings throughout IRISIRI, often in ways that prove her technical ability. She can hit high notes and she can evoke the timbre of sacred music, as she does against discordant electronics on “Trespasses.” She also screeches, simpers, and whines throughout the album, all vocal techniques that run the risk of being called “annoying”—a far more dismissive adjective to apply to a woman singing than “abrasive,” “harsh,” or “angry.” But she finds life in that confrontational space. When, on “Inclined,” she cracks her voice on the outer edges of her range, she calls into question why women’s voices are heard the way they are. A violin loops in the background, crowding Drewchin’s delivery with the suggestion of decorum, all while she’s cramping her voice, starving it of oxygen, and rubbing it the “wrong” way. It’s as though a man once told her she sang obnoxiously and, rather than clean up her tone, she decided to double down on all the elements that might irritate the patriarchal ear.
Eartheater hints at the threat femininity poses to the male world order across a number of tracks, most notably “Inhale Baby,” which features vocals from the L.A.-based experimental duo Odwalla1221. “Inhale baby pink/Exhale red,” Chloe Maratta repeats, as if urging her collaborators to alchemize their compulsive docility into fiery rage. Later, an element of body horror appears in the duo’s spoken-word contribution: “There’s so much stuff coming out of my skirt,” says Flannery Silva, stretching out her consonants as if pronouncing a threat. The album’s other feature, by the Philadelphia experimentalist Moor Mother, on the frantic “MMXXX,” complements Drewchin’s vaulting melodies with a steadily defiant verse. As the two vocalists sing and rap over aggressive beats, sirens, and sounds of breaking glass, the contrast between them produces the record’s high point. There is hardly any melody to speak of, yet “MMXXX” ranks among the most addictive song Eartheater has put to tape. It has so much energy it doesn’t need a hook.
“I rejected that culture,” Drewchin wails over raging guitars on “C.L.I.T.,” an advance single whose name stands for “curiosity liberates infinite truth.” The impulse to cast off cultural standards dictating how music should sound dominates IRISIRI, which seems most interested in articulating femininity outside the constraints of patriarchal expectations. In Eartheater’s burgeoning musical world, women don’t need to fold their voices in service of beauty. They are free to make a ruckus, to sound monstrous, to gnash their teeth at anyone who would pen them in.
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