“This is a really sick song. It’s one of those Spector songs and it was written by Carole King, which… you have to think. Nice feminist anthem.” But what do you think? How to speak about “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)”? The song is surely one of the most harrowing pieces of music to appear in the realm of pop. It was produced by a man whose monstrous misogynist violence has been established. But like Lou Reed’s Berlin, the song is anything but a celebration of the acts it depicts. Rather, it is a rightly chilling insider’s view of trauma, based (by King and partner Gerry Goffin) on their response to another’s personal experience.
Despite the many acts who have covered and reinterpreted the work, it remains a move that should be deeply considered before being attempted given its nature. But, considering Anika’s oeuvre, its inclusion on her new EP seems so obvious one feels that it had somehow already happened, yet not quite made its way into the stream of time — and, more importantly, that Anika can be trusted with this material.
One of the hallmarks of the best pop music is the bringing together of pretty music with bleak themes. On her masterful, glacial 2010 debut, Anika (working with Geoff Barrow’s Beak>, as she does on the present EP) took this paradigm and put it through a broken-glass-filled blender. There is an innocence about the provenance of her 60s and 70s source material, decades of postwar subcultural flowerings, flower power itself, and utopian hopes for everybody getting together and loving one other — but there is also a reflection of the bile and the dark underside: drug casualties, systematic violence, justified howls of protest. Altamont, Tate and Manson, Faithfull, Vietnam. Its finest moment, “Terry,” took Twinkle’s teen death anthem and turned its lovelorn lament for the Leader of the Pack into an exemplar of Freud’s paradigm that the process of mourning arrested (in this case, by five decades or so) condemns the sufferer to live among the dead.
Her new EP — also self-titled — opens with a track from that album, The Kinks’ “I Go To Sleep,” transformed from melancholy to despair. “He Hit Me” and a cover of Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz” (the choice revealing once again the connoisseurship orienting an otherwise perfectly rough-edged project) take place over similarly sonorous, reverberating beats. Chromatics’ “In The City” is transformed into low-key yet driving gothic funk, while the EP is rounded out with bad-trip dub versions of two of the album tracks. There are resemblances to Beak> in the strategy of hypnotic, echoing repetition, equal parts Krautrock and dub, and the Ballardian mood, but Anika’s choice of covers, and her addictively guttural and heavily-accented vocals, bring to this sensibility a personalizing quality that, paradoxically, riffs on the dehumanizing experience of emotional suffering.
Those difficult emotions are echoed in the tantalizing form of the EP as a release, material that looks back (bending to the receding river) while promising a mouthwatering taste of what might be to come (reaching for the hanging fruit). It’s in this sense only that the package feels a little slight. Among other misdeeds, Tantalus cooked his son, Pelops, and served him up as an offering to the horrified gods. In the legend, the boy was given new life by the Fates, his missing parts replaced with ivory; we await the complete reconstitution of Anika’s artfully, richly cannibalized craft.