“We cannot retrace our steps, going forward may be the same as going backwards. We cannot retrace our steps, retrace our steps.” —Gertrude Stein
You remember that naughtily delighted moment when, as a kid, you found out that Coca-Cola was so monikered because it originally contained cocaine? Co La — Ecstatic Sunshine’s Matt Papich — isn’t much like that, though the looping, self-centered conversation characteristic of coke is definitely a metaphorical point of reference. That is to say, his tracks are constructed from brief loops of other works, often (briefly) recognizable. But would you ever drink coke from a stein? Another Stein wrote, of “A Sound”: “Elephant beaten with candy and little pops and chews all bolts and reckless reckless rats, this is this.” Is that this this?
John Gill has argued that Gertrude Stein’s work, in its separation from syntax and meaning, has an “innate musicality” which consists in its words; Co La is attempting a similar job with his approach to looped snippets. But Daydream Repeater isn’t a modernist work — on the contrary, I wouldn’t usually say this (as being too facile), but it’s deeply postmodern. The quote with which this review opened demonstrates the irony by which repetition, a literal retracing of one’s steps, comprises both novelty and a strategy of defamiliarization. The twiddling of ‘tender buttons,’ the dissociated erotics of the technological age, is exemplified not least in the cover art. And here we might also think of the deconstructed ‘cover’ as version, that is, purposefully imperfect simulacrum, as something that is both Same and Other: “originally rid of a cover.” The album’s title, in referencing a hit by an artificial band from an age of authenticity that now seems naïve, speaks, or rather (given the privilege that that term reserves for the biological and the anthropocentric), is articulated, toward the same concerns.
In discussing Stein, Gill also quotes Leo, her brother, on her writing: “It is all so silly as not to be worth by bothering about. Yet occasionally she falls into a rhythm that is nice.” While the first statement would be too harsh a ‘sentence’ on Co La, there’s something apt in the second. When his approach works, it produces tracks of intricate and bubbling fascination. The undoubted highlight is the addictive “Wanna Say Faux,” on which the realization slowly dawns that one is auditing a brilliant de/reconstruction of The Ronettes’ classic “Be My Baby.” Elsewhere, however, the samples slide off the ear, failing to gel into that sweet hypnotic point of trance-like or body-swaying repetition, while other tracks, as on “My Jamaican” (a riff on Grace Jones’ “My Jamaican Guy”), add little to the original beyond excerption. These can, however, be interesting statements beyond the sonic-pleasure nexus, as in “Smooth Solidarity’s” reggae excerpt, “we are the music makers”: what is it to be a ‘maker’? What can it mean to a generation raised in a daydream nation?
To repeat the question, “What is the current that makes machinery, that makes it crackle?” (as Stein put it). But that crackle is not static across levels of appreciation. Where it is intellectually interesting, it may not be aurally satisfying. Co La’s work crackles with potentialities, but it remains, for the most part, as yet unrealized — if indeed we accept the argument that the project of realization (or real-ization), of ‘finish’ in the sense of culmination (rather than the smooth yet fragmented varnish of the postmodern) — remains viable.