W00dy Relentless Kickdrum

[Self-Released; 2018]

Styles: 5-hydroxytryptamine, whoooooooosh, mania
Others: Unicorn Hard-On, Jlin, Lockbox, Container

The music on Relentless Kickdrum, the latest album by Philadelphia-based electronic musician W00dy, is defined by velocity. Not only are the tempos expeditious, but each motif and rhythmic variation that’s introduced is consistently toyed with and reworked, often giving the illusion of repetition while pushing the music forward at full tilt. Although W00dy ostensibly fits into the wave of artists fusing noise and dancefloor-centric styles, the way she synthesizes the genres emphasizes rhythmic disorientation over sonic heaviness. As the album’s title suggests, W00dy subtly breaks down the typical hierarchy of the drum machine, resulting in an intensity that is borne out of the duality of clarity and overstimulation. Even as she piles on elements and twist them apart, each sound is crisply rendered and can be followed as its own gust in the larger cyclone.

Deft manipulation of the human voice recurs throughout the album, with each track beginning with a cut-up sample of speech or singing that provides a basis for the ensuing maelstrom. That each track has such a bedrock element makes it oddly accessible. Even as tracks slip into pure syncopation, they feel danceable and ecstatic in a deeply human way, similar to how more adventurous footwork producers like Jlin or DJ Paypal somehow make complexity feel like the natural order of things. W00dy’s alchemical talent for turning chaos into euphoria is unyielding. That tension between jubilation and negativism is reflected in the language she uses to title her work. Tracks such as “Hell” and “Unlovable” sit beside “Catharsis” and the playful “Butt.” Even the use of the word “relentless” in the album title stands in contrast with the obvious joy she takes in extending the steady pulse of techno far beyond its typical confines. At a time when other musicians pushing the boundaries of dance music (or at least being recognized widely for doing so) are exploring a darker, more oppressive direction, the recognition of another way forward feels invigorating.

As remarkable as this music sounds on headphones, it’s even more powerful in a live context. My first interaction with these tracks was just after sunset at the most recent Voice of the Valley festival in rural West Virginia, with the crowd still soggy after a late-afternoon rain had cooled the area significantly. I was familiar with her previous tape, the world has rendered me, which hinted at some of the transformative qualities on display here while never fully achieving liftoff, but I was unprepared for the evolution that has seemingly taken place in the last year. The physicality of the sound as it punctuated the air lured the dazed audience to the front and instantly transformed the area around the wooden stage into a puddle of spastic movement among the field and trees. The inherent communal aspect of the festival was intensified by the overwhelming nature of the performance. That music so intricate and at times obtuse could generate the feeling of exhilaration that pervaded the scene, notable even among a weekend full of such performances, was unforgettable.

Relentless Kickdrum is a record that benefits from diving in wholeheartedly and surrendering to the overpowering nature of the music, allowing yourself to be pulled in its many multiple directions at once. Each track contains multitudes and is simultaneously heady and visceral and absurd. W00dy has crafted an album that stands apart in the still fairly new but well-probed lineage of experimental artists redefining dance music, one that prioritizes sophistication and fervency while retaining the crucial element of fun.

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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