Croatian Amor - ISA [Posh Isolation - 2019]Loke Rahbek's "bubblegum industrial" project Croatian Amor reflects perfectly the long, circuitous journey the musician has made along with Christian Stadgaard and their Posh Isolation label. Eschewing the dank noise and black metal tropes of their early releases, the label has increasingly been taking on a more metropolitan sensibility, with collaborations between Kyo and African American vocalist Jeuru and Varg's recent embrace of Trap and alt-Hip-Hop stylings. ISA also features appearances from Frederikke Hoffmeier and Yves Tumor, both of whom have had records out on Belin's PAN label, which appears to be something of a model for what Rahbek and Stadgaad are aiming at.
ISA, which is the Islamic name for Jesus, is a record dripping in uncanny appropriations of pop and R&B; as on In Alarm Light which twists synthetic and organic vocal phrases around a serotonin drained industrial framework. Themes of depressive hedonia are hinted at by the vocals, emerging almost randomly as if scrolling down a Facebook news feed; "Brutality, makes us feel safe". Point Reflex Blue is a highlight of the album's first half. Again building the atmosphere around heavily treated and time-stretched vocal phrases - "All angels meet again" - drenching them in pathos filled synths and surprisingly upbeat percussion. This strange counterpoint between registers of downbeat and euphoric, messianic portent and banal Youtube fodder runs throughout the record and is its most striking stylistic feature. The last third of Point Reflex Blue suddenly opens up into an anthem like trance vista.
Elsewhere as on Siren Blur Accent sombre fender Rhodes and near choral vocal processing take us back into a mood of introspection and (to cite Mark Fisher again) reflective impotence. It's the sound of desire in a world of anomia and digital overload.
Dark Cut is perhaps the most conventional song on the record, featuring a relatively straightforward vocal from HTRK's Jonnine Standish, who intones "your love is a language I never dreamt of" over dislocated percussion and vaporous computer voices. Rahbek's compositional range and ability to express a wide variety of emotional registers in his music was shown off last year with his solo release, City of Woman, as well as his collaboration with Frederic Valentin. Here again he shifts the register with Into Salt , a near elegy featuring Rahbek's piano playing and amplifying those longing vocal phrases, which once abstracted from their context take on a melancholic sense comparable to the way Burial uses his samples. Tragedy and darkness are never far away, but the form in which it's communicated is highly unusual, using text to speak voices to recite often quite unnerving things; "Enhance photo to reveal a picture of Bird caught mid-flight; enhance again, the bird has a human face screaming".
Despite the ever present sense of loss, tragedy and eschatological portent, the record is never grim or hopeless. There's more of a 'Love among the ruins' feel to these songs which captures well the double edged meaning of hope in a time of compulsory positivity. The final track In World Cell is a case in point. Starting with an odd pitch-shifted vocal about maps contained in a person's eyes, the song opens out beautifully with bubbling electronics and sweeping synths, culminating in a melodic and hopeful call for the possibility of change and connection. An anonymous processed voice finally says "I believe that things still can be changed". ISA is a strikingly original and at times highly affecting record, combining multiple styles and techniques. Its strength is in combining the familiar and the strange in a way that is both uncanny and resolutely speaks to our time.