I’ve Heard It: Black Dresses – WASTEISOLATION

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Black Dresses is a collaboration between Dizzy (of Girls Rituals) and Rook, two Canadian artists whose transgressive noise-pop has attracted a loyal Bandcamp cult. Their first release as a duo (following last year’s split EP Dreams Come True 2017) is WASTEISOLATION, an absorbing collection of bitcrushed bass, sledgehammer beats, oblique hooks, and cathartic freakouts.

From the jump, this thing is noisy as hell. Album opener “Doorway” floats above a bed of rumbling bass that crackles at the edges and never decays; it’s like standing in the middle of a mansion on fire. Standout track “Thoughts and Prayers”, with its clattering snares and warbly synths, poses as tossed-off party rap but insidiously crams a half-dozen earworms into its 4½ minutes. Most of the songs here are so thick on the low end that the menacing chiptune vibes of “Eternal Nausea” feel positively upbeat by comparison.

Lyrically, WASTEISOLATION details the agonizing search for personal identity through a lens of beyond-Cronenbergian body anxiety. It’s a powerful but precarious approach, and the album’s more diaristic moments sometimes threaten to topple over into grating artlessness. Your somewhat prudish reviewer is not too highbrow to admit that the grimly erotic Reznorisms of “In My Mouth” made him squirm in his chair. Later, the grit-teeth chorus of “Wiggle” evokes a certain seminal SoCal nü-metal band, and by the time the parental-abuse screed “Legacy” reaches peak apeshit, the KoЯn has grown high as an elephant’s eye.

But in the sonic world of Black Dresses, discomfort is a feature rather than a bug. Like all the best feverishly sad art, WASTEISOLATION is often very funny, in a way that only feverishly sad people can really grasp.1 A lyric as angsty and anguished as “I feel like a kind of human curse / Annihilation is my thirst” is given a reading so deadpan that you can almost hear the eye-roll, and when a voice cuts in afterward to editorialize (“So good,” she says)2, it’s a winking reminder that these two know exactly what they’re doing.

With its all-caps titles, health goth aesthetic, and genderfuckery, WASTEISOLATION is undeniably a product of this peculiar cultural moment. Sonically, though, the album evokes the electroclash-inspired racket that dominated MySpace and the incipient blogosphere in the latter half of the 2000s. Listening to the album, I find myself reminded of acts I hadn’t heard or thought about in years: the FruityPro beats and blown-out synths of Bitchee Bitchee Ya Ya Ya; the fey, distracted raps of Peaches or Uffie (or, later, Kitty Pryde); and, in its cringworthiest moments, the sound and fury of crunkcore legends Brokencyde.

Black Dresses occupy a space that is totally current but uncannily familiar, poptimistic but utterly unmarketable. Maybe all my attempts to chart its positions on the cultural map are wasted, and WASTEISOLATION is best understood as a fearless, fucked-up howl from a dark place out past the edges of polite society. On “Eternal Nausea”, Dizzy and Rook plant their flag in that country: “This shit’s too evil to be stylish / Don’t tell me this is too dramatic ’cause I live inside it.”

 

WASTEISOLATION is now streaming, and available for download on Bandcamp. A limited edition cassette is available from psychic hotline.fm.

 

  1. Tom Ewing’s article “Are the Smiths Funny?” is an excellent meditation on this idea, and was key in helping me connect with this side of my favorite “depressing” music.
  2. This moment halfway through “Im Earth” immediately reminded me of Harry Nilsson’s meta-editorializing on Nilsson Sings Newman‘s excellent “So Long Dad”.