Bloom Offering | Episodes
The Helen Scarsdale Agency (LP/DL)
Seattle’s Nicole Carr is Bloom Offering and though she’s put out a small handful of tapes via various labels, this is her very first vinyl LP, Episodes offered through the always enigmatic The Helen Scarsdale Agency run by experimental sound artist Jim Haynes, serving deep listening audiences since 2003. The record won’t be disbursed until the very end of the month, but I was anxious to give it a whirl as this is my introduction to the work of Carr.
The opener, Swallow Me Whole, has a synth frequency pinging from left to right channels as Carr sings in the key of Marianne Faithfull, though this has a much more modern feel. The mood is dry, the no/new wave aesthetic is fragrant of darkly lit back alleys fit for punky denizens. And her vocal is icy in the mold of someone like Grace Jones, Ladytron, or more recently Miss Kittin. It’s a matter-of-fact delivery, but behind it there’s a longing, an angst. It’s a foil for the #MeToo generation, but marches alone.
It’s a tight alt electro-pop record with gothic tendencies. The ‘thwap-thwap’ of percussion blends both the best of vapor-wave (I hate that term, but it duly applies) and contemporary folk music into a new hybrid. It’s stylish, a cinematic backdrop – in fact this may have been a better soundtrack for the femme fatale spy thriller Atomic Blonde. The lyrics, poetic and potent, part spoken word, orated in harmony with the beat, particularly when she refrains “blood is thicker than water…that’s what they say” on the shoegazer Fishbowl. The soft hiss that acts like a passage into Fit Of A God Complex which is similar to the gentle churning drones of Gas, with an added announcement-style murmur and savvy slow-release percussion. The synths circulate in a loop, the aeriform effects ooze. It’s brilliantly atmospheric and this carries through the entirety of Venus Shrugged.
Episodes questions the positions of gendered power in mirroring back Carr’s existential anxiety through her roughly engineered body music and minimal wave shadowplay.
The funky beats of Out 2 Get U will likely be one of those tracks that other artists may want to consider remixing. It’s a catchy rhythm with limited vocal and the familiar drum likely found on old dusty vinyl from TVT or Wax Trax. Bloom Offering kicks up any residual dust and creates a purring, bouncy work that will tweak your eardrums. Then there’s Simple Math. Vocal manipulation, layered in gray reverb and futuristic synth lines that flicker with a poker-faced attitude and a dubious starkness.
In the final lap we are faced with Imperfect Absence that at first harkens back to Chris & Cosey or Strawberry Switchblade, but breaches the pace of these throwbacks in light of an awkward, abstract experimental pop vibe. The lyrics are wavy, and indiscernible, locked in an echo chamber over a golden Fairlight type melody. Think Yazoo and Laurie Anderson, woven together and then pulled apart at the seams to make way for a whole new de/generation – taking tried/true tropes and making sense of them for the contemporary ear. Overall this will make for a stunning wax platter, for fans of the entire spectrum of electronic music (early 80s to the present).