Fear of Men Fall Forever

[Kanine; 2016]

Styles: post-punk
Others: Mitski, Waxahatchee, Torres

If Fear of Men’s excellent 2014 release Loom shot the icy clarity of Jess Weiss’s placidly devastating lyrics through the lens of a spare and flat but nevertheless decidedly inviting jangle-pop, this year’s Fall Forever finds the group ditching the jangle and moving fully into the glassy, fluid clarity once occupied solely by her voice. There’s not a guitar strum to be found save a low-mixed, heavily distorted shiver or two, with gliding sustained notes and shimmering reverb predominating, underpinned by a deeply fragmented and skeletal yet unnervingly tight percussive section that toggles between acoustic and electric tones. The net effect, initially, is an even greater sense of remove, the cold post-continental philosophizing of bodies merging with the frigid precision of her band. With Fall Forever, we’ve finally happened upon a guitar group that understands the post-humanist impulse of minimal electronic music without the inane organic-inorganic dialectic Radiohead’s been riding for far too long. But what’s particularly crucial here is the understanding that mechanistic processes in no way supersede or subsume the body. Here, adding a synthesized bass drone or pulling a guitar far from its source sound, like the recognition that bodies participate in and produce mechanic processes, is simply a recognition that these processes were always going on and that nothing new is at stake, save the specifics by which these assemblages interact.

But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be utterly devastating. That initial remove alters with time and repeated listens into the territory of the immediate presence of that remove, of the body enmeshed in that remove and horrified by it. In record-review-parlance, it’s a “grower,” but when it hits, it cuts so deeply. “You’re the one that holds me down when I’m not present in my body,” Weiss sings on the crushing “Undine.” “Force my nerves to bend to feel what you feel/ I could break apart, disintegrate here.” If there’s a tension the whole album labors under, it’s the terror of the liminality of the body-mind system, but that fear isn’t as esoteric as it might appear. It’s that shuddering recognition of the fragility or even non-existence of limits to corporal form that finds its apotheosis in the fear of rape. It’s the fear of the other coming into contact with the body and tearing it apart, one’s thoughts bound up in the force of another. Slowly, quietly, with near-complete calm, Fall Forever edges the listener into that space of total fragility. “I’m faithful towards my own mortality,” she sings on “Island,” and she means it.

The album is bound together by a processed glide that it takes as its textural basis, the group’s long-standing lyrical obsession with water imagery seeping into all aspects of the audio fabric. If the percussion is relentlessly pointillist, it’s with an eye toward precision as instability and neurosis, that fluid drift of the body caught up in flux between thought and action and disintegrating processes. “Free from flesh, you’re a memory, you’re divine,” claims “A Memory.” If she’s singing about a lost relationship and the simultaneous idealization and rejection of the past partner, it’s also a pean to the impermanence of all limits. Nearly the entirety of Fall Forever consists of relationship songs, but relationship and/or breakup song models become different ways to sneak subjective and empathetic perspectives into a concept of a relationship as both a schematic threatening the core stability of both sides of the equation ontologically and a specific instance of a diffuse, generalized fear of impermanence. Accordingly, the songs shatter and disintegrate us. Our hearts shudder.

You give me trauma/ You give me more than I can bear/ I rise above you/ I burn your body on the pyre/ Give me trauma/ If I give you trauma,” goes the relentless and defiantly catchy “Trauma.” The track subtly alters the production elements of its pinging guitar melody over the course of the song, only to land on “You’re not a mirror to me/ You’re not a mirror at all.” There are echoes of classic French post-structuralist feminism here with its emphasis on the figure of the Other and on communication, but here they’re pulled into a contemporary state, with the understanding that literally anything can be modified, processed, interconnected, and transgressed. But still, Fall Forever clings to a passing dream of the self and locates within it a tiny spot of resistance, insisting on the existence of a nevertheless passing state as a means to assert the pain of the interaction and the presence of some kind of fleeting selfhood.

Links: Fear of Men - Kanine

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