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Caterina Barbieri, "Myuthafoo"

MyuthafooThis latest album from Barbieri is intended as a sister album to 2019's landmark Ecstatic Computation and has been released to correspond with the imminent reissue of the latter. The central difference between the two albums is that Myuthafoo gradually and organically took shape during Barbieri's extensive touring, as the "nomadic, interactive energy" of those many live dates inspired her to play with experimental variations in her process each night. More specifically, she would program patterns into her sequencer, then feed them into her "arsenal of noise generators" to explore different combinations and the most compelling results were set aside for future expansion and/or eventual release.


In characteristically cerebral fashion, Barbieri's arcane processes have their roots in cosmogony, as she is fascinated with how a small number of limited options can "branch out into a much larger structure, eventually reaching towards an open-ended cosmos of possibility." Admittedly, comparing Myuthafoo to the birth of a universe will probably establish unreasonably high expectations for some listeners, but they can at least console themselves with yet another killer Caterina Barbieri album while they patiently wait for a new and better universe to form.

The opening "Memory Leak" sadly lasts for only a single minute, but it crash lands onto the album in truly impressive fashion, as the undulating swirl of smearing, howling, and tormented sounds almost makes me forget that precision, patterns, and repetition have historically been at the heart of all of Barbieri's work. Hopefully, she will someday explore that more feral and explosive side in more depth, as the rest of Myuthafoo is devoted to somewhat less radical variations upon traditional Barbieri fare. Far more representative is the album's lead single, "Math of You," which can only be described as "classic Barbieri": an intricate web of moving parts centered around tense minor key arpeggios that increasingly become more slippery, tumbling, and streaking. While the term "cyberpunk" always makes me wince, it feels weirdly apt to describe "Math of You" as a cyberpunk twist upon burbling synth-driven kosmische, as Barbieri's vision is similar yet significantly more tense, tight, muscular, and volatile (patterns subtly unravel and break apart throughout the piece). Interestingly, the similarly named "Myuthafoo" seems rooted in a similar melodic pattern, but takes a very different and more melancholy direction, as it is slowed down and dematerialized into tripped-out ghostly beauty.

"Alphabet of Light" opens the album's second half in similarly subdued territory, as it resembles a viscous slow-motion deconstruction of an organ mass in which notes gradually start streaking outwards to leave pulsing vapor trails in their wake. The following "Sufyosowirl" then snaps back into tense, complexly rhythmic patterns for one of the album's strongest pieces. In a general sense, it has all of the usual hallmarks of a classic Barbieri piece, but it also feels like a killer psychedelic upgrade for a whole host of reasons (though mostly because it resembles an intense and hallucinatory synth/marimba duet that culminates in a wild laser light show). The comparatively simple closer "Swirls of You" then ends the album with yet another gem, as it resembles the outro of a cool dreampop song expanded into warm, sensuously dissolving abstraction.

To my ears, there is not a weak piece in the bunch here (six songs, six hits) and some even feel like an significant creative leap forward for an artist who was already in a pretty enviable place to begin with. That said, whether a listener experiences Myuthafoo as a good album or a brilliant one is largely dependent upon how closely one listens, as Barbieri's genius for detail is what sets her apart from just about every other synth visionary on earth (or as the album description more poetically puts it, "phrases flicker like illusions, dissolving and dissipating as they snake and weave" while "rubbery möbius strips…twist romantically"). Caterina Barbieri remains a goddamn magician.

Listen here.