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Croatian Amor - Isa Music Album Reviews

The third album from Loke Rahbek’s experimental industrial project is his most cohesive to date, dissecting pop for parts and refiguring melodic elements into something truly other.

Loke Rahbek’s multitudes have long been multiplying. A decade ago, the Danish producer was singing in a black metal band called Sexdrome when he named his brutal noise label, Posh Isolation, after a 1998 lyric of the Glaswegian twee-pop band Belle and Sebastian: “Anything’s better than posh isolation.” His oeuvre has ranged from the absurdist power electronics/performance art of Damien Dubrovnik to faithful new wave in Lust for Youth. Guiding all of Rahbek’s disparate work is an inquiry into what might constitute the underground music of today. His ambient electronic project Croatian Amor is its gentlest answer.

Isa, named after the Muslim Arabic word for Jesus, is his most cohesive project to date. His self-described “bubblegum industrial” has only traces of sugar left, but he still lets in plenty of light and air. It’s an understated electronic collage that seems as spiritually akin to the gothic electronics of Arca as the terror of Throbbing Gristle, but Rahbek also seems fascinated by pop—with dissecting pop for parts and refiguring melodic elements into something truly other. In 2016, Rahbek said he had listened to Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak for the first time on a plane while the aircraft broke down and made an emergency landing. Isa sounds like that, too: pop actively deconstructing, adding a sleek AutoTune and rattle to its nonlinear shape.

The album feels more like a series of waves than a collection of songs. It crests on relative bangers such as the heart-tugging “Point Reflex Blue” and a minimal club track, “Dark Cut,” both coming into circuitous but muscular rhythms. Rahbek’s beats seem to go forward and backward at the same time, as if the air is hissing out of a balloon. Though Isa busily accrues new ideas at every turn, it is slow and palliative, and sometimes it is hard to discern whether the calm is serene or disquieting or just blank. Extremities are presented with concrete language, like a guttural scream or a robotic refrain of “all angels meet again”—invoking an afterlife and necessarily implying death.

When vocals appear—from the likes of Danish synthesis-philosopher Soho Rezanejad and HTRK’s Jonnine Standish—they are both pretty and unsettled. Typically spoken through robotic augmentation, the lyric-monologues bring an existential edge to this feather-light music, especially the alien-like voices of automation that recur. “Enhance photo to reveal a picture of Bird caught mid-flight,” one goes, “enhance again, the bird has a human face screaming.” There seem to be oblique critiques laced throughout. “Brutality makes us feel safe […] The gentle appearance makes us feel safe,” a voice slowly intones on “In Alarm Light,” a clear comment on the illusion of safety. By the final track, “In World Cell,” as the entire album seems to collapse onto itself, Isa ends with a hope that shakes you, a childlike voice proclaiming through static, “I believe that things still can be changed.”

Still, Isa is never more ominous than on its two interstitials, “Eden 1.1” and “Eden 1.2,” featuring Rahbek’s previous collaborators and vanguard noisemakers, Puce Mary and Yves Tumor. Amid slashes of industrial noise and chilling silences, the two artists take turns offering similar surreal speeches about gazing up at a black airplane, a pitch-black sky, vomit, and a bird of paradise—sinister appeals to the unknown, to the unavoidable end times. These interstitials give Isa a dimensionality that seems to break a fourth wall of the record.

As a teenager, Rahbek was a painter, but he gave it up in favor of noise music after being disillusioned by what galleries did to art. Maybe it is ironic that his poised new music evokes nothing more than the wide-open walls of a gallery space. Maybe it is proof that creativity is a circle—and that the past, when we least expect it, can emerge new, telling us about the future.

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