Frederikke Hoffmeier’s voice is the thread that holds together her apocalyptic mood pieces, a cinematic take on noise that’s driven by dead-eyed focus.
“A heap of broken images, where the sun beats/And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief/And the dry stone no sound of water.... I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” These parched words, written almost 100 years ago by TS Eliot, in The Waste Land, could easily double as an epigraph for Puce Mary’s The Drought. Starting with the title, the record concerns itself with a primordial lack: a rotting, shuddering collapse both personal and global. Though rooted in industrial music and power electronics, The Drought sidesteps those genres’ stereotypical displays of machismo and fetishistic celebrations of strength. Instead it evokes an absence of power, the failure of industry. Puce Mary (aka Frederikke Hoffmeier) soundtracks a life spent vacantly shuttling between insidious digital isolation and alienated bodily contact, set against the background of a looming apocalypse.
The Drought is extremely cinematic. Many of the timbres will be familiar to fans of recent highbrow horror excursions like The Witch and Under the Skin. Pealing strings stretch across grey skies while thudding toms, roaring static, and claustrophobic low end seep into the mix. But there is no easily digestible three-act arc to be found here. Hoffmeier’s previous titles, Persona and The Spiral, are revealing. The Drought moves with a steady foreboding worthy of Bergman, obsessively tracing the same terrain over and over again. If The Spiral suggested a descent, The Drought traces a circle. The film it conjures is a slow-motion 360-degree pan across an ashen landscape.
Opening with a pair of desolate instrumentals, the album really comes alive on the third track. “To Possess Is to Be in Control” pivots on Hoffmeier’s laconic voice intoning a droning micro treatise on desire. It winds up with a vaporous cloud of haunting half melodies and floating whistles (catcalls?), and then she dives right in: “It makes me sick to open my body to you, to give you all I have. If I could possess you, like I possess my own body….” Her last line—“To possess is to be in control”—is answered with staccato bursts of noise, sharp as a knife’s blade. Hoffmeier seems to be tearing her way out of the track, writhing and snarling while simultaneously keeping her cool.
The theme picks up two songs later with the album’s centerpiece. “Red Desert” similarly presents alienation and dread in the midst of code-red atmospherics. Air-raid sirens hover while Hoffmeier sighs, “I find myself feeling like decades have passed. I’m an old woman now, and I have lost my attraction. I’m tortured by a feeling of drowning under you… and I feel desperate.” So far, so literal, but just after the one-minute mark, a mournful organ gently announces itself, sounding like a not-too-distant cousin to Eno’s “The Big Ship.” In an album almost completely devoid of traditional musical gestures, this intrusion gives The Drought a much-needed dose of the holy.
But having arrived at such an affecting moment, Hoffmeier seems reluctant to let it breathe. It’s too bad, because while the non-vocal tracks are uniformly impressive and powerful, they lag slightly behind. “Fragments of a Lily” churns like a gabber track with food poisoning. “Coagulate” shimmers and radiates with the cold light of black metal, and “Slouching Uphill” closes the album on an escalated note, teetering on the brink of violence. But it’s the voice that brings The Drought together, giving the album a sense of movement and purpose beyond a set of well-executed mood pieces. As it is, the record is thematically unified and executed with a steady, unwavering hand, but it also feels like a concept album waiting to happen. Over only a few years, Puce Mary has emerged as one of the most exciting and promising voices in noise music. The Drought’s glacial intensity and dead-eyed focus force you to approach it on its own terms, but one senses that Hoffmeier is just getting started.
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