Dolphin Midwives, "Body of Water"
I loved Sage Fisher's last album (the wonderful and hallucinatory Liminal Garden), so I was quite eager to find out how she would follow such a unique vision. Now that Body of Water has been released, I have my answer and it is very much an expectation-subverting one. While the harp arguably remains Fisher's primary instrument, her vocals take a much more prominent role with this latest opus. That is a twist, certainly, but it is not THE twist, which is that Fisher enlisted the aid of acclaimed producer Tucker Martine to craft a suite of songs that feels like a sensual and psychotropic strain of outsider R&B. Whether it is close enough to the real thing to make an impact beyond underground electronic music circles remains to be seen, but Fisher's stylistic reinvention is an extremely cool and surprising one regardless. Admittedly, it took me a few listens to fully warm to the unabashed pop hooks that fill this album, but Fisher's more lysergic impulses are never far away, resulting in an immersive swirl of delightful mindfuckery anchored by memorable hooks, simmering grooves, and a newly unveiled soulfulness.
After a brief yet surreal introduction of cooing looped vocals and skipping Oval-esque electronics, the autotuned R&B of the title piece reveals the unexpected new direction. When I listened to the album initially, I kept waiting for "Body of Water" to cleverly derail into more hallucinatory and abstract territory, but that moment never came. The vocals are processed into semi-artificiality and there is an eerily ghostly atmosphere, but the piece is otherwise straight-up melodic pop, as Fisher's inner dance diva belts out a sultry melody over a stark backdrop of deep bass, slow kick drum, and a quietly simmering haze of electronics. Rather than a fluke, that piece is a statement of intent that sets the tone for all that follows. That pop-inspired side reaches its apotheosis with "Clearing," which could easily be mistaken for a killer Portishead remix. At the opposite end of the spectrum are a couple of stellar harp pieces: the rippling and gently heaving psychedelia of "Fountain" and the swooningly melodic "Idyll." The remainder of the songs evoke the artfully glitchy and pixelated pop of an imagined cyberpunk future, but Fisher keeps things stark, weird, and intimate enough to make that seem like an appealing trajectory. "Capricorn" is a particular highlight, resembling some kind of spaced-out synth-driven future funk that is wonderfully unstable and out of phase. Elsewhere, I loved "Break," which gradually transforms into a delirious swirl of pitch-shifted voices suggesting a chopped and screwed Enya classic, as well as the frayed and shuddering vocal loops of the two-part "Hummingbird." In fact, I like just about everything on this album, as even the most straightforwardly melodic pieces are inventive and art-damaged enough to stand out as compelling, fresh, and unique.
Samples can be found here.