“The title Love Songs,” Thembi Soddell explains of her latest album, “is a little dark humour on my behalf”. Darkness, yes — I can hear where she’s coming from on that one; the humour I don’t quite get, but that’s probably more reflective of my failings than of Soddell’s. The Australian artist describes the record as “a meditation on the lived experience of insidious forms of abuse within supposedly loving relationships”, so I was prepared for a lot of sonic annihilation, but the forms through which this annihilation is delivered are perhaps surprising, and in a good way. A lot of the sounds on the album are apparently derived from vocalisations of Alice Hui-Sheng Chang, but I would never have guessed this if I hadn’t read it in the press release, such is the extent of the processing.
There’s a lot of silence on “Love Songs”. Rather than batter you with noise hammers right from the get-go, Soddell chooses very gradual fade-ins, or sudden bursts seemingly coming from nowhere. Were I the type to hear every sound as a metaphor, I suppose I’d say that this mirrors the ways in which pressure can slowly build up in a relationship between two people, or how deeply repressed feelings can suddenly explode given the right trigger. Or perhaps these forms are intended to represent the “insidiousness” of the abuse that Soddell wishes to meditate on. Either way, the results are striking and unexpected: the silence increases the perceived aggression or pathos of the noise, while the noise attenuates the blankness of the silence, filling it with its own void.
And what of the noises? They vary from a low throbbing sound, like the approach of a large underwater engine, to a shimmering buzz that is half insect half migraine, to sounds reminiscent of rushing water and gale-force winds, to shrill grating and piercing static. Particularly vivid is the buzzing of third track ‘Repetition Compulsion’, the image being that of flies around a carcass, with the whining of individual insects cutting across the general hum. Colourful and varied though these sounds are, they really come alive through their arrangement and relationship to prolonged silences. It’s this innovative approach to form that really gives “Love Songs” its edge.