Emamouse & Nicolò Desolation

[Absurd TRAX; 2019]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: eschatology, post-denpa
Others: the day after tomorrow, mother 2

Each week, the average human consumes enough microplastic — tiny fragments of discarded water bottles, Doritos wrappers, etc. — to print an entire credit card, according to a study conducted by the University of Newcastle. So much of the stuff passes through our digestive tracts that, last year, plastic was detected in the stool samples of all participants in a study of human waste.

Your shit, at least the undigested, synthetic portion of it, will outlive you. By approximately 900 years. And that’s not even as alarming as the 5 to 12 billion tons of macro plastic — fully-formed trash bags and 2-liters — dumped in the ocean each year, which isn’t going anywhere soon.

The looming threat of environmental cataclysm has become so unignorable that Desolation, a conceptual IDM-slash-chiptune album about the apocalypse, feels like as good an attempt as any to frame the current zeitgeist.

The work’s even more startling considering the duo that produced it. Tokyo’s Emamouse is best known for her whimsical denpa pop: aggressively cheerful, MIDI-composed, and personified by the felt anime mask she dons at live performances. Italian producer Nicolò specializes in bassy, understated club music that flirts with the surreal. Desolation, genre-bending and pessimistic, is a major outlier in either collaborator’s discography. It also happens to be each artist’s most realized LP to date.

“Imagine being left by everyone and walking around a big city where everyone has left to go to other planets,” reads Desolation’s Bandcamp page. If the tracklist is meant to be read as a narrative, then we can assume that the narrator is Emamouse herself, left behind to inhabit the city as the upper crusts flee environmental annihilation via commercial spacecraft.

Opening track “2019 - to date,” which follows an eerie spoken-word intro by Emamouse, acts as a de facto prologue. Resonant pads loop like blinkers on an unmanned control panel, bass squelching as steely tones pile atop one another. The constant, rising tension forecasts impending doom, though we’re left only to imagine how that Armageddon plays out. Before the beat reaches crescendo, listeners are thrust into track 3, “ema walking to the next level,” in which a zigzagging sine lead acts as a beacon of comfort amidst a single dissonant chord. From here on out, it’s a heroine’s journey through an urban wasteland — picture Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, only starring a lovable cartoon rodent.

Desolation’s best offerings feel as suited for the dancefloor as they do the backdrop of a boss battle from the Mother series. “Empty Club,” as its title suggests, does so especially well, though I’m most fond of “Air,” a footwork-adjacent tangle of avian chirps. On the latter, driving bass and kicks assert themselves, attempting to impose order on an ecosystem of twittering melodies. The low end eventually weakens, scrambling for space as synths swarm and overtake the mix.

The most unnerving tracks here, save for Desolation’s grimdark title cut, are a pair of “Microplastic” interludes: thin, crackly noise pieces that sound like nature itself gasping for air. By the time you reach “We are one, on n on,” the record’s nightmarish closer, you’ll never look at grocery bags the same way again.

Collab efforts often feel like fun asides in a musician’s body of work, an excuse to jam with a friend or dabble in a new palette. In the case of Emamouse and Nicolo’s latest effort, though, Desolation marks career highs, exploding the duo’s sonic boundaries while presenting a direct call to environmental action.

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