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Fire-Toolz - Skinless X-1 Music Album Reviews

Chicago producer Angel Marcloid uses vaporwave’s expansive palette to explore the identities that the internet enables users to absorb, process, and redistribute.

Nothing is off limits to Angel Marcloid. In the experimental electronic music she makes as Fire-Toolz, the prolific Chicago producer scavenges voraciously from a dizzying array of sources: Proggy electric guitar solos bristle against Windows notification sounds; electronic-blast beats underscore muzak bass; and black metal screams crash into samples from guided meditations.

The idea that every sound is on the table has proven a key tenet of internet-native genres like vaporwave, whose tactics Marcloid uses often but not exclusively. If vaporwave liquefies discrete source materials into a soothing, uniform goo, Marcloid’s work preserves the rough edges of its components, like scrap metal suspended in Jell-O. On Skinless X-1, she’s less interested in the glazed-over numbness that results from staring too long into the web than she is in excavating the particulate, contradictory identities that the internet enables its users to absorb, process, and redistribute.

Earlier Fire-Toolz releases, like 2017’s Drip Mental and Interbeing, stoked a keen sense of restlessness. The project veered from the staid ambient meditations and noisy experiments Marcloid has cultivated under a variety of other monikers in the past decade (her Bandcamp discography dates back to 2006). Instead of ruminating on a single theme, Fire-Toolz accentuates the contrasts between often clashing forms of sound, a strategy Oneohtrix Point Never also employed on his last two albums. But Skinless X-1, Marcloid’s fourth Fire-Toolz release, finds the project locking into new grooves. Rather than highlight how easily attention can scatter, it congeals attention, testing just how many disparate elements the ear can hold together in a single moment.

Many of the various genres Marcloid draws upon here have similar goals in mind. Black metal, trance, and new age music all seek to free the body from its usual routines of labor and leisure; they pursue sensory extremes in order to end psychological ruts and allow catharsis. Though Skinless X-1 jumps rapidly from one musical configuration to another, that dynamism rarely comes at the expense of momentum or depth. Songs like “Elysian Fields” turn video game background music into settings for white-hot guitar riffs, bolstering both elements with unsteady yet propulsive beats. On the standout track “Lethe,” Marcloid trades her black metal screams for choked, distorted vocalizations that sound as though they could be floating over a faulty phone line—and yet this scrambled voice beckons more deeply and more seriously than the flat-out howls on “✓ iNTERBEiNG.” The harder it is to hear Marcloid, the more inviting it feels to lean in and try to make her out amid the noise.

This decade has been a fertile time for musicians discovering what online spaces sound like—what the digital images and virtual realities of the present and past have done to attention, connection, and consciousness. Fire-Toolz calls back to an earlier era of the web, when the computer spoke every time you received an email and instant messaging services fostered a new sense of simultaneity among faraway strangers. Rather than suggest that this period marked the beginning of an epoch of detachment, Marcloid remembers the vintage internet as host to emotional intensities. Skinless X-1’s “In the Computer Room @ Dusk ☕” stirs together acoustic guitar, ambient drone, and slow percussive pulses, calling up the image of a young person on an old PC at the end of the ’90s, realizing they've accidentally spent all day online.

A nostalgic fondness percolates through the music, as if Marcloid were reminiscing about a time before online personas were tied to birth names, before the threat of doxxing loomed. Back then, you were whatever you said you were. You could play-act various identities, bond intensely with other play-actors. If you waded in deep enough, you might even have found something true about yourself.

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