Ashley Paul Lost in Shadows

[Slip; 2018]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: post-partum haze, nursery music, process music
Others: Félicia Atkinson, Julia Holter, Lucrecia Dalt

I will never give birth, but lately, my pupils have been calling me “grrrrrrrl,” unknowingly perhaps. I remember in college learning about gender roles in apes, how even in different mammalian species, there is remarkable variance in how different sexes divide labor concerning care of children; child rearing doesn’t require being born with a pussy, and neither does being a mother. I will never give birth, but motherhood doesn’t give a fuck about where children come from; historically, it seems, only fathers and evil stepmothers do. It’s mothers who sing, in some way, for their children.

Lost in Shadows is Ashley Paul’s first album since having a kid, and its instrumentation, composition, and lyrical themes are shaped by this. Known in experimental circles for balancing delicate textures with shrill sounds within free-form compositional structures, Paul’s latest feels especially grounded in its postpartum haziness. This is nursery music for enthusiasts of field recordings and free improvisation, as indescribably catchy and invigorating as it is inevitably irregular and enervating. At its immediate outset, Paul ushers in a quiet cavalcade of joy and fatigue, leading guitar, saxophone, voice, tuba, cello, and percussion through narrow hallways littered with toys, directing sounds like a drugged drum majorette on a poorly organized marching band field trip. Paul’s endurance on Lost in Shadows matches that of a new mother, hindered by impossible exhaustion, yet driven by a bizarre and radical love for new life.

Lyrically, Paul sings in abstract phrases, many of which were improvised. On Lost in Shadows, she sings about “delirium,” wind, and her first few days with her daughter, whom everyone at her recent residency in Zaragoza, Spain jokingly called “Blanquita” because of her comparatively pale white skin. She meditates on breastfeeding her in an otherwise empty room. Through its use of bouncy vignette-like songs, Lost in Shadows is a study in simultaneous extremes: loneliness and love, fear and humor, chaos and calm. Notably, it is also an album with only two characters: Paul and her daughter, related not by constructs like sex and gender and labor, but by proximity and love and care. I doubt that Paul consciously avoids details that uphold heteronormative structures that sometimes imbue works like this with a sense of prescribed life planning; this is, primarily, a sketch of Paul and her daughter, but its specificities in its composition leave room for all kinds of warm and harrowing and affirming and terrifying reactions as we witness this trembling tenderness externally, internalizing its familiar intensities.

I will never give birth, but Lost in Shadows doesn’t require that I ever do so; it’s unceasingly empowering anyway. Its oompa-pahs and squawks and whispers and screeches have a staying power that outlives my recollection of their frequencies, like a music box that can’t be replicated but immediately recognized, like a story that you don’t remember living but remember hearing. Paul’s is a story worth hearing again and again, because if you’ve been inside this kind of love, it never gets old. Hopefully, it’s a story I can tell someday when I’m ready.

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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