Sex Worker Waving Goodbye

[Not Not Fun; 2010]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: lo-fi, noise pop, electronic, soul, hypnagogic pop, shitgaze, eurodance
Others: Autre Ne Veut, LA Vampires, Matrix Metals, Former Ghosts, Corona, Psychedelic Horseshit

Sex Worker is Daniel Martin-McCormick from San Francisco’s Mi Ami, and without a doubt some of the sunstroked and spiky sounds of that project have leaked out and bled over into this solo project, here presenting Waving Goodbye, his second Not Not Fun release (not counting his recent split with Psychic Reality). The album is yet another entry in the label’s archive of West Coast-centric skewiff lo-fi noise pop — a short, alternatively sharp and sluggish slice of thrash-danceable shitgaze and soured-out ballads that plays like a more embittered, twisted, and snotty Autre Ne Veut. Both are mock-pop-naifs with a sophisticated and sardonic approach to what they both describe as a commitment to Popular Melodramatic Song (thanks MySpace). But where Autre Ne Veut’s subversive pop sensibility manifests in an ecstatic sleight-of-hand play with the surfaces and affectations of neosoul/R&B/pop ‘n’ songcraft, Sex Worker wrings less song than snarl out of his private pop melodrama, brandishes a dagger a little less discreetly behind the cloak of pop reference.

Indirection is one thing in a delightful romp through pop music nods, but Sex Worker’s approach is best heard in the infectious — that is, chronic and queasy — cover of Corona’s dance hit “Rhythm of the Night,” which remains a textbook example of the beatific, global (read: Euro) cosmopolitan dance-club sound that saturated 90s airwaves and, then, falling from the molten-hot Top 10 spots as quickly as they meteorically charted, compact disc bargain-bins. In Sex Worker’s hands, the brash confidence of that hit is swallowed in space just as the space occupied by such relics as the compact disc has been swallowed by the tidal wave of the internet. The low-tide debris of these developments remains to be fully picked over, but it should be noted that Not Not Fun, like many other tiny imprints, specialize in re-fetishizing the musical object at the margins — limited-release vinyl, a cult centred around back-of-the-gig merch and whose badge of membership is a silkscreened t-shirt. Its a fragile, and thus ferocious, space, and Martin-McCormick comes across as inhabiting it duly crippled, vulnerable, and unsure as the burbling drum patterns and percolations that are underpinnings of a successful dance track are stripped, exposed, and stand unsupported. Treated this way, “Rhythm of the Night’s” danceable skeleton soon gives way, Martin-McCormick’s vocal flirting with hysteria under the erosive pressure of a deft echodeck and ambience. Lacking the tightly compressed drop, punch, and reprise of the original, the track seems quietly delirious, oddly flat, and deserves holding up to the light of the hauntological zeitgeist that has attached itself to so much experimental pop production in recent years.

A slightly hysterical melancholy is the tone set by most of Sex Worker’s tracks. They’re more focused here than on The Labour of Love, a collection dedicated to “all trafficked humans and enslaved bodies,” but the same sense of quasi-political purport seeps through in an attitude of barely-restrained insanity held checked against a play of popular sonics, a play of false security and skinny aggro that never quite becomes overtly agitational.

“Next To You” is a fantastic highlight that functions, in the very middle of the album, as a kind of pivot of sheer delight — a fantastic lo-fi dance track that bounces along at a steady clip as Martin-McCormick loops freeform knob-twiddled whistles above. If any complacency is instilled at this point, it’s soon shattered by the following track. “Sleeping Through It” replaces the odd bliss of its predecessor with a disturbing hypnosis worthy of Throbbing Gristle. Vocals are sirens are screams over chopped static and a gloomy organ and feedback legato.

It’s the same sense of a shattered surface that Kenneth Anger took as his operating principle in writing Hollywood Babylon — in exposing the soft underbelly of the Hollywood milieu, Anger pointed to that which hides in plain sight, revealing the sanitary surface of Hollywood as the cloying visible crust of the depravity that is really the the secret font and form of popular desire. The analogy comes to mind not simply because the closing track of Waving Goodbye is called “Honeymoon Babylon,” a clear allusion; rather, it’s because releases like this seem to be doing the same kind of good work in pressing methodically, diagnostically, the limits of the lifeforms of pop. It doesn’t always work, but what ‘work’ constitutes is unclear when goals such as stardom, circulation, saturation (e.g., economic imperatives and their attendant aesthetic norms) are removed from the mix. Without pursuing such analysis, it’s fair to say that Waving Goodbye is uneven. But that observation itself seems to indicate its value: it’s as if the leaky, sick, acned mutant, the shitter twin of pop has returned from fretting before the bathroom mirror, and — thanks to the leveling, in many ways, of popular music dissemination afforded by the interwebs — it has faced up to its shiny even-complexioned corporate sibling. Here, it’s screaming “Tough Love” at the top of its lungs — and there’s no studio engineer in sight to wag a finger at the redlit, clipped-out mic limiter.

Links: Sex Worker - Not Not Fun

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