Let’s begin with that cover. Because it’s not so much a cover as a framing device. A freeze frame actually. Taken from the exuberant video to JB’s “Beauty and the Beat” just as a drop of water partly blurs his face.
What is captured here? A number of different things, I think. In stillness, movement. In intimacy, distance. In celebrity, a void. And in the familiarity and pleasure of pop, a strangeness: a distortion.
It’s the last of these pairs that seems to interest Marcus Whale. As one half of Collarbones, and in particular on the remarkable “Hypothermia” from their second full-length Die Young, he’s been responsible for some of the freshest sounding “pop” these ears have heard in a long while. Which is to say a kind of mutant strain of it: at once totally reverent of the mainstream and, at the same time, actively subversive of it. As if to say: yes, yes, I LOVE the Biebster’s “One Time,” I really do; I love its energy and its sincere enthusiasm, but wouldn’t it be better if it sounded like this? Wouldn’t it be better if experimentalism and pop hadn’t become so antithetical? You know, like back in the day when Aaliyah and Timbaland were kicking it? Or like some of Yasutaka Nakata’s recent production work for J-Pop sensations Perfume?
Churn (free download here) is Whale’s first solo release as Scissor Lock, following an excellent early-2012 collaboration with Thomas William. It’s less direct, less upbeat than his stuff with Collarbones, but it’s no less potent. Heavily processed voices drift over slippery synths and gently skittering beats on “Outer Space.” And the sparkling, metallic drones on “Churn” and “I guess” recall Oneohtrix Point Never’s Returnal. Except, with the distant and heavily treated vocals added in for good measure, perhaps this is closer to Laurel Halo’s phenomenal Quarantine (TMT Review), yet another experiment in the sonics of posthumanity, the experience of being always already mediated. Nowhere is this clearer than on the appropriately titled “None”: a near total effacement of self, the pop mainstream’s obsession with Auto-Tune taken to its logical conclusion.
It’s as if with Collarbones Whale was trying to show how pop could be otherwise — more interesting, more experimental. And with Scissor Lock, he’s trying to re-imagine the experimental underground through the lens of pop. Which is to say we could read the cover image to Churn exactly the other way round. Not as a distorted take on pop. Rather, the focus here is precisely on the splash of water, the distortion. That’s where our attention is being directed. And what we’re being invited to see/hear is the pop that was always latent behind it, waiting to peak through.