Lolina Relaxin’ with LOLINA

[Self-Released; 2015]

Styles: minimal avant pop, warped dancehall, grime
Others: Hype, Blunt, Ferraro, Halo

Much of the excitement for me when listening to a Hype/Inga/Blunt-affiliated track comes in the first few seconds, when some difficult element is placed front and center, and I wonder “How will they make a song out of this?” It’s a dilettantish approach, for every song to hinge on some obtuse inspiration, but it works — or at the very least, Lolina knows how to curate her ideas well, because each song on Relaxin’ with LOLINA feels like a small but seminal step forward for her aesthetic. She’s a difficult voice to pin down, for many reasons, but what becomes most apparent about her output here is how well-suited she is for composing on skewed planes.

These tracks see Alina Astrova, the real name of Inga Copeland, performing as Lolina, meaning she’s either ditched her prior pseudonym for yet another new one or just switched it up for this release. But it doesn’t make much difference at this point, because the message is the same. And we hear Lolina doing even more with even less, navigating between contrasts of warped bass and chintzy dancehall piano and tying it together with sinister-sultry vocal work.

On first track “Lolina,” the catalyst for melody is a deep, swaying three-note bass loop, colored with grimy thumps and sweeping effects. From here, Alina demonstrates her capacity for subtle counterpoint and harmony, complementing the dissonance of the bass with discordant toy piano. Yet it’s her creaking, off-center voice that glues the piece together, creating a stirring wall of interesting resonances, all shifted away from musical normalcy and out of key, but bluntly communicative of something — intimacy, control, panic. Lines like “help you understand” and “should’ve been glad” squeak out like a gentle plea to an inured public in need of serious relaxation.

This is the primary appeal to me about the music of the ex-Hype Williams crew: how they assemble their music with different parts, under different techniques, at a different point of origin, so that everything proceeds along a parallel path while still aligning with a certain pleasure principle. “Miss Understood,” for example, takes detuned piano chords and uses dissonance against itself, eking out a subtly funky pulse by emphasizing certain root notes, allowing us to mentally fill in the sparseness of the song with an undercurrent of sly melodic progression.

This comes to a head on “Relaxx,” where errant keys run up against vibraphone in a disorienting spar. Traipsing along beatlessly for most of its runtime, it echoes Laurel Halo’s jazzy prelude “Dr. Echt” transposed to some darker and less forgiving key. Like Lolina’s own constantly shifting identity, it scarcely resolves itself, choosing instead to maintain constant tension and trickle out a couple of positive chords when it feels like it. Although some were rightfully frustrated to learn that Relaxin’ was going to be an EP and not a full-length, it’s also worth remembering Alina’s dedication to the craft, to making each recording feel singular and exciting, a narrative of modern unease through divergence and coherence, tension and release.

Links: Lolina

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