Pictorial Candi fOREVER TILL YOU DIE

[Mansions and Millions; 2016]

Styles: dream pop, r&b, post-vapor, synth pop, not pop
Others: Deerhoof, Grimes, Unknown Mortal Orchestra

My first listen. Heading to get Thai food with Erika. I told her that they have the best mango sticky rice I’d ever had. We didn’t end up having dessert, we were running late to see a rare Los Angeles appearance of Peter Brötzmann, and I still had to return an ex’s bike before the show. Ten minutes into our trip, traffic slows — the express lane is blocked by emergency vehicles — and a highway patrol officer is standing opposite 300 tons of automobile. He was bald and looked dopey but confident. He had exited his patrol car and was directing the scene on 101 South, as though it were a minor intersection. He was clearing the way for another fire truck to pass through. He has eyebrows like a sad clown’s eyebrows; center pulled up, sad clown eyebrows. His body alone was causing an unfathomable stoppage.

With a few gestures, the officer halted the front line of cars, which began the mile-long caesura of metal bodies much larger than his. All the while, synths swell and harmonies ascend: the daydream R&B of “Dead Teens.” Now I think about the highway clown and recognize that I was marveling at state authority and not the corporeal deadening the machine or the minuscule and singular swaying the many.

On fOREVER TILL YOU DIE, the voice of Pictorial Candi — pseudonym of Warsaw-based Argentinian musician Cadelaria Saenz Valiente — sounds timid amidst spacious and washy synths. Her timidity is performative; it pulls back from the bravado of her instrumental arrangements and forms. It is the lowercase f that ignites the otherwise audacious OREVER TILL YOU DIE.

She’s playing the part of the sad clown cop with the infinite state behind her: stopping cars baldly, dancing.

I first heard Pictorial Candi with “Ode to Plethora” (from her 2012 debut Eat Your Coney Island). I listened to “Ode to Plethora” repeatedly, trying to grasp or to just get close to Valiente’s defiant boldness, as she hollers her leaping melody above dry, airy guitar, calling out to excess. Accelerando and a hard style change — one that would be at home with her tour mates in Deerhoof — into the triumphant and determined chorus. Everything is jagged and insistent on Eat Your Coney Island, so much so that it baffled me then. On fOREVER TILL YOU DIE, the insistence hasn’t gone away. It has, however, become less opaque.

The confidently shaky and bare guitar accompaniment has been mostly swapped out for cloudy on-the-grid synth arrangements, contemporary with Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Grimes, 18+, and dozens of other post-vapor pop acts. However, things sound most cohesive and unique here when a guitar is slyly involved (album opener “Tonic (Paso de los Toros),” single “Meteor Shower,” or closer “Sherry T.V.”). fOREVER TILL YOU DIE is most persuasive in its abrupt and decisive changes of direction, which only sometimes settle into patient and static repetition, like on the off-kilter phrasing in “Dead Teens” that washes out and clears in an instant, eventually stuttering on a two-chord loop for its final three minutes.

The unique character of these formal gestures is found in Pictorial Candi’s guitar-band foundation, often drawing idiomatic relation to prog and Krautrock rather than not-pop and synth contemporaries (e.g., Oneohtrix Point Never, Ariel Pink, PC Music, etc.). This is most audible in the rock-drama of “Lithium Starline,” and it’s a hopeful combination, because as we’ve seen, guitars are getting cut. The album settles — hones in on song form —with its sixth and seventh tracks, “Meteor Shower” and “Rhoda,” both of which resemble a sort of radiated Patsy Cline via Angel Olsen and carry enough harmonic movement to please Al Green. All of this motion seems to happen as though it could only be that way; there is very little shock delivered from the onslaught of pastiche.

As Erika and I arrive at album-closer “Sherry T.V.,” I note that “this sounds a lot more like her older stuff,” and that the track sounded much more comfortable for Valiente than the rest. On fOREVER TILL YOU DIE, the fog of reverb and timidity of the vocals in conjunction with her new idiom reads as uncertain, like trying a new word for the first time. The shakiness — the anesthesia-heavy fog of Valiente’s dream world — carries a sense of insistent skepticism. One of the first and few lines of lyric to rise out of the mix into intelligibility reads, “But you’re so sure of yourself/ How can you be so sure of yourself?” After that, very few full phrases can be made out, besides the peculiar and intimate spoken-word track “Extra Stale Time,” which paints an erotic surrealistic collage of “Waiting for spring wasteland time/ Styrofoam jizz time/ The cosmos along with the smoking giant, the ancients were right/ Time to put banana peels on your breasts/ Go stand under the moon time […] pajama time, etc./ Amen.” Dream-fog of sound and automatistic dream-fog of lyric: the unconscious buried in synth for the rest, perhaps.

I think I liked the new Pictorial Candi on that first listen, but I wasn’t sure because it is much different than the garage pop of Eat Your Coney Island, and if I’m being honest, I knew that Erika had never heard Pictorial and I’d already said that I was a fan. I was mostly nervous, handling the moment by cautiously announcing, “Wow, this is way different than her older stuff” about a million times. And oh, I should also let you know that I’ve been breaking out Shazam in the supermarket more often (this is how I fell in love with Debbie Gibson’s “Only In My Dreams” and Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s “Lost in Emotion”). Oh, also I once felt that Avalon was Roxy Music’s best album. On second thought, that makes me think that the textural leap between Eat Your Coney Island and fOREVER TILL YOU DIE is the sort of thing that might’ve happened to a 1960s troubadour once he’d had a name for himself and half-a-dozen albums under his belt. He finds himself in the 80s with a producer three-fourths his age (say, Cohen’s Various Positions, Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, and Neil Young’s Trans), but this is like Valiente’s third album, and she’s still calling all the shots. Things are moving faster, I guess.

Not much that needs to be said about fOREVER TILL YOU DIE. It’s a good album: well-realized, enjoyable, and idiosyncratic. Nothing about this album begs to be understood. It’s as good a thing as any to travel with. Surrealize your environment, *forever till you die.***

Links: Pictorial Candi - Mansions and Millions

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