AJA by AJARelease date: May 2, 2018
Label: Opal Tapes
AJA‘s self titled debut, on the mighty Opal Tapes, is a bracing half hour of caustic, seductive, electro-noise. AJA has been making a name for herself the last couple of years based on her extraordinary live show, a fierce explosion of power electronics, performance art, hallucinatory costumes, body paint and primal screaming nudity. Launching herself fearlessly into the audience and rolling about at their feet. When this works well she creates a shared catharsis rather than just an extreme spectacle. Her performance at last year’s Supernormal was an incredible thing to be at but you can get distracted from the claustrophobic music – a lurid, visceral sound that’s almost a physical presence in the room around you. How that kind of performance transfers to tape can be tricky. While this is recognizably the same sort of sound, she’s said that the performances are often mostly improvised whereas this is carefully written.
The first side runs through different plays on her blend of industrial drones and clanks, queasy atmospherics and processed vocals. The tracks all run into one another making a journey down into the darkness, crawling through shifting forms of distress. On ‘Rattles’ a chorus of unhappy ghosts wail from deep in a cave of drones. AJA is not describing her pain for the group but channelling it into feral sound. On ‘Charge’ the beat, if you can call it that, is a thumping erratic chunk of noise, the vocals distorted distant shrieks. The rhythm picks up on ‘Sweat Pearls’ but it’s chaotic and irregular, like a fight, like flailing wildly in a lightless basement.
The first side closes out with ‘XLR’ the quietest, stillest moment but it drips with horror and unease, the calmer echoing vocals rubbed out under crunching bursts of electrical scree. The second side opens with ‘Tuck It, Tape It’ and kicks the ferocity up a couple of gears. A shattered fit of almost breakcore spastic percussion hits and lost wails, it feels like her live show squeezed into a condensed outburst. ‘Black Stain’ is an oily pool on the floor of a dank basement thick with ambient menace. Release and transfiguration finally comes on closing track ‘Marbles’. A seven minute long banger in several parts blessed with an ecstatic, chest rattling bass thump pushing it forwards.
There is, weirdly, something of the KLF’s ‘It’s Grim Up North’ about the first half’s industrial pulse strafed by whirrs and distorted transmissions, I half expect to hear ‘Jerusalem’ bleeding through from the radio. It cuts out and comes back even more assured, the huge wonky distorted beats joined by an uplifting synth pulse, the weight of the first side laid down, light and colour flooding in.