18+ Fore

[Self-Released; 2016]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: dramatized ambivalence, ‘ghosting,’ desire
Others: José Esteban Muñoz, Richard Dyer, Migos

Internet anonymity is dying. You’ve seen it in Facebook’s requirement that users only operate under “legal” names, in YouTube’s merge with Google Accounts and their weird multiplicity of services beneath a single, solidified name per email address, in the rise of “verified” accounts on sites like Twitter and Instagram, assuring us that those account operators are who they claim to be. As more and more click-driven companies have arisen to stake their claim in the increasingly-privatized web, anonymity is something that many sites have sought to wind down, phase out, and kill off in a search for the Authentic, Truest Self — a mirror image of the body’s real-world counterpart. The infinite potential of anonymity, now more than ever, is increasingly strained beneath a pull toward identity, an image of individual web transparency, a single, commodifiable brand, now squashed into a corporal mold.

Much of the aura surrounding duo 18+ was built upon this dying anonymity. From their early YouTube videos of anonymous, bikini-clad avatars, video game re-edits, and hooded figures over keyboards, the pair crafted a non-narrative through three mixtapes, hours of emotional labor in affective R&B crooning without face or body. Fifty songs in, we found love in a hopeless place, a vacuum of uncanny devices turned autoerotic infinities all screaming in unison, “Desire. Desire. Desire.”

But all that changed with the release of their first proper full-length, 2014’s Trust. While for the first time the pair appeared without disguise, bold and unflinching in album art monochrome, Trust was, at its center, a rejection of binaries between “real” and “anonymous,” between the desirability of the avatar and the readymade decry of modernity with every verification captcha. Bold and precarious, the album repackaged 14 tracks from the duo’s mixtapes into an uncanny problematization of URL vs. IRL, authentic vs. selling out vs. whatever else could exist when we’re forced to confront anything beyond the limits of stock characters and hyperbolic internet anger. It’s Zizek’s “Virtual as Real” accelerated by 20 years, “Virtual” as “Real” in an endless cycle of sardonic air quotes, a case-by-case-by-case-by-case infinity on dizzying, unapologetic internet time.

Fore ventures into R&B forms that in many ways now feel hegemonic. The trap growl of “pain sport (may you forever trigger seizure)” echoes Arca’s influence on Kanye and FKA twigs, while tracks like “paint (a warm splash, still cold tho)” and “mama (another echo chamber)” could be mistaken for Metro Boomin productions. The tape feels riddled with sounds from our current pop spectrum in that Elysia Crampton kinda way, a bold disidentification with pop’s ambivalence that moves beyond the classic spot-the-reference game of ourplunderphonic tradition to find the open space for a surprisingly large space for cultural play within eras.

Not quite reclamation and not quite parody, disidentification (a term borrowed from queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz’s Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics) is a “rethinking” of “encoded meaning,” a subversive “taking-up” of pop’s ambivalence to one’s own ends. It’s the same coded desire beneath the romance of Richard Dyer’s love for Diana Ross records, the same ambivalence forced upon generations of queer artists forced to work under heteronormative songwriting assumptions. It’s the playful collaging of cultural traditions, the picking-and-choosing of normative pop culture artifacts to build a makeshift world out of and in one’s own image.

While the duo’s music isn’t exactly “queer,” lots of tracks on Fore seem to play up this ambivalence, dramatizing much of the lyrical landscapes of current pop and R&B to make something weird. “Love was like (party w pauses)” starts with the now-classic voicemail trope (here practically void of any meaning in the context of the song) and moves into a slowed dancehall beat, while “headinmyway (drone)” plays out a conversation with a psychiatrist, a track about pills slurred through stock circumstances in a blurry assemblage of emotive composite. “tripping (this long trip)” is (of course) about a dark drug trip gone awry, with the beat shifting in pitch and time as the track ebbs between lyrical flows; while “fiction (fiction, death caught on camera)” hops on that infamous Migos flow to land somewhere between a sex tape and domestic violence, also possibly caught on tape. “paint (a warm splash, still cold tho)” builds around the gloriously ambivalent hook “love is a matter of time,” further echoing the technocratic inevitability of desire, somehow both a forlorn resignation and flattened optimism in a single, economic expression.

The result of this is something of a “dramatized ambivalence,” a conspicuously detached mode of writing that becomes sort of a Rorschach Test for however you want it to feel. Like most good pop records, you can dive in scrutinously for explanation and find whatever you’re looking for, or similarly listen with detachment and still come away as intended. It’s endless multiplicities of desire, a billion shapeless, spectral forms, spreading out from too many pop traditions to count. It’s the limitless thread of the unphasing gazes of post-internet art, a fresh glimpse into post-cartographic chaos in a 15-track tape. It’s desire with the most literal “no strings attached.” A long walk home, ghosted alone in the moonlight.

Links: 18+

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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