LA Vampires By Octo Octa
, June 8th, 2012 06:13
New transmissions from Amanda Brown's LA Vampires are fairly rare. Existing in a hinterland as wide-ranging as the releases that emerge from her labels Not Not Fun and 100% Silk, the project finds her working in a role closer to dub vocalist than typical songwriter, lending her voice to works by a range of different collaborators. It's an appropriate angle for someone in her position to take: as curator of a vast and growing archive (her labels are notorious and adored in equal measure for their rapid fire release schedule), she selects opportune moments to make herself an integral presence within the fray.
Her new 12", a collaborative effort with crafter of gossmer delicate, R&B-flecked house Michael Morrison, aka Octo Octa, is her first through 100% Silk. The label has acquired a mixed reputation: depending on who you ask they're either biting deep into territory that's already been well explored, simply putting out great dancefloor tunes with few frills, or dissolving the boundaries between the US post-noise underground and straight-ahead dance music, via those fields' shared obsessions with bodily impact. All three are frequently true, and while Silk has been responsible for several marvelous records, just as many are less likely to hold much sway in a year or two's time. Morrison's been responsible for a couple of great tracks on earlier EPs - in particular the Ciara-nabbing Casio house of 'Let Me See You' - but some that wash quite pleasantly over the eardrums and are immediately lost. It's reasonable to ask whether LA Vampires by Octo Octa, a set of five house tracks plus a remix in a similar vein, is likely to remain interesting after the initial glow has faded.
To be fair, the same question could have been asked of Brown's hypnagogic vortex So Unreal, which gathered a deserved amount of love when it was released in 2010, at the height of the trend for eighties pop culture-referencing murk. But Sam Meringue (aka Matrix Metals), her co-pilot on So Unreal, managed to create something of unusual permanence and resonance, sinking disco deep into the lower recesses of the mixing desk. Trapped within the inebriated whirl of a night out in full swing, Brown was a sole presence at the mercy of unpredictable surrounds, spinning Chic's 'Everybody Dance' and abrasive rips of brass into sad, stoned slo-mo. It was one of the first records to explicitly relate the subconscious recall power of hypnagogic pop to analogous experiences on the dancefloor, and as such was a neat primer/predictor for 100% Silk's entire aesthetic (it's probably no coincidence that the label was minted a mere couple of months after So Unreal's release).
There's always been an emphasis on the ritual in Brown's work, from her days as half of Pocahaunted to the endless iterations and paranoid dubs of LA Vampires Meets Zola Jesus. So where better to be situated than at the heart of established clubland's codified procedures, which begin like clockwork at an allotted venue, pass through the dancefloor and stumble out into the blueish light of 6am? With that in mind, LA Vampires by Octo Octa's deep house sketches are further extensions of the concerns that have long informed her music (and art on the whole - process was an important part of the early days of Not Not Fun, where Amanda and husband Britt Brown would sit up late meticulously hand-crafting sleeves and soft cases for limited tape and CDR runs). The five originals on here - the sixth is a remix by Silk/L.I.E.S producer Malvoeaux - are hewn to a gridded rhythmic formula: deep house, few extras, centred around springy four-to-the-floor kicks.
Brown's vocal presence is less panicked than on previous recordings, with a languid romanticism that matches the glitz of her surroundings. It's hardly surprising - where previously she'd have to battle Meringue's dub artefacts or Zola Jesus' fellow vocals for space, here Morrison leaves the mid-range free for the taking. She continues to stretch her lyrical concerns into mantras, looping sweet nothings until they become the track's sole purpose and she assumes the indistinct aura of a spook. Opener 'His Love' is so opulent it seems to caress the skin, its desaturated chord motif feather light above a scooped rhythm; on 'Found You' she's a spurned phantom lover. As club tracks go, these are some of the most delicate and sensual you're likely to encounter anywhere in 2012.
However, for the most part LA Vampires by Octo Octa lacks the time/space warping properties of her older music, and its basis in bodily reality forsakes some of the delicious otherworldliness of her work with Matrix Metals and with Ital on Streetwise. Both of those collaborations carved out new resonant spaces for Brown's disconnected ghost to flit around, striking carefully angled poses; in a 2010 interview with The Wire she described the project's name as a reference to LA's "sleazy-looking pale guys with perfect hair and dark sunglasses you see lurking around weird places at weird hours", an adept summary of her records' sudden inversions of consensus reality, and her own elusive presence within them. By contrast, her lurking grounds on LA Vampires by Octo Octa are altogether more well trodden, and the creeping sense of disquiet has vanished along with the weirdness. Only on highlight 'Wherever, Boy' does she make a slight return to the shadows - its second half’s joyous refrains stack on top of one another, layer upon layer, until they threaten to overwhelm the entire track. It's the 12"s single concession to the darkside, spiralling upward in an uncontrollable, brain-busting rush: the sudden lurch of a double E drop crashing in all at once. LA Vampires might have sold her soul to the party, but here she's dancing on the edge of the void, hoping and praying that the bleak tomorrow never arrives.