The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Octo Octa
Resonant Body Noel Gardner , September 18th, 2019 09:19

With chunky basslines and heart-tugging synthesizers, Octo Octa's Resonant Body is one of the best dance LPs of recent times, finds Noel Gardner

You need a large serving of good faith, I suppose, to go along with the assertion that this album of unabashed 90s dance homages is pure of heart and made for the right reasons – as opposed to a cynical mining of an era that’s already been comprehensively ransacked. Fortunate for both the reviewer and Octo Octa, then, that few individuals in electronic music right now inspire such good faith. Maya Bouldry-Morrison, an American house producer and DJ now resident in New Hampshire, has evolved sonically since first latching onto the 100% Silk label’s roster of lo-fi house jammers near the start of this decade; she’s also wrestled with identity in public, transitioning prior to 2017 LP Where Are We Going?. If the title of that stellar collection of tricksy deep house betrayed lingering uncertainty, followup Resonant Body is bold as brass in its love-missives to the music that gets Octo Octa’s motor running.

The chunky basslines, unsubtle sample slicing and heart-tugging synthesisers that personify these eight tracks couldn’t strictly be called nostalgic, as they hark back to a time when Bouldry-Morrison was in kindergarten if not younger. ‘Imminent Spirit Arrival’, which opens proceedings, tackles the emotional yin and yang of 90s rave: dramatic sweeping breakbeat techno akin to early Orbital, leavened by a pivot to a melancholy minor key even as untraceable ‘pow!’ vocal slivers keep the mood buoyant. No such dichotomies with ‘Move Your Body’, nailed-on, hoover-effect chart rave that, had it actually been released in 1991, would have jostled for airwave space with the likes of K-Klass, or anyone else bridging the supposed gap between ‘pop’ and ‘credible’.

Things tangibly shift up a gear, and by virtue of manipulating the mood also remind you how great and intuitive a DJ Octo Octa is, with ‘Spin Girl, Let’s Activate!’ Not just a glorious title, this is a peaktime heater with a rubbery acid bassline and recognisable sample (‘Boot The Booty’ by MC Cool Rock & Chaszy Chess). Sequential successor to ‘Deep Connections’, whose crystalline melodies trill somewhere between Model 500 and Polygon Window – ambient techno, in early 90s parlance – further demonstration of Bouldry-Morrison’s unflappable self-belief comes with ‘Ecstatic Beat’. A teenage drum&bass obsessive, this track is, I think, the first time she’s properly embraced the genre’s tropes (Where Are We Going? nudges it once or twice): superb, aqueous 1994 Metalheadz jungle that swoops and divebombs and mutates for four and a half immersive minutes, the grandiosity of its synth lines matched by the tuffness of the bass and the fist-hard judder of snares.

Resonant Body, and Octo Octa’s catalogue in general, is fairly sparing in its use of the human voice, but ‘Can You See Me?’ is an effective exception: another proto-rave workout enlivened by the lyric, sampled from what sounds like a disco or northern soul belter, “I know exactly how you feel”. People can, will and already have put their own interpretations on its deployment by Bouldry-Morrison here; mine, for whatever it’s worth, is that as banal, universalist phrases go, you couldn’t capture much more succinctly how the concepts of marginalisation and community interact.

If ‘Can You See Me?’ is a more than plausible queer-dancefloor anthem-in-waiting, ‘My Body Is Powerful’ serves as a thematic chaser through its title alone – the track itself is twinkly, ersatz-rainforest ambience with synths which I honestly thought were samples of howling coyotes to begin with – and ‘Power To The People’, well, you don’t call something ‘Power To The People’ without solid reserves of personal swagger. Perhaps the closest callback to Where Are We Going? with its wistful keys and classic house languidness, this time the vocal sample is massed – what sounds like a huge crowd clapping and chanting, possibly even from one of Octo Octa’s own gigs (large-scale marquee festival slots being an occasional novelty for her now). As per the album-sequencing-as-DJ-set consideration, it’s a sweaty, communal, blinking-as-the-lights-come-on finish. As an homage to the emotional and cultural power of rave, it’s a choice denouement to one of the best dance LPs of recent times from one of the moment’s most valuable artists.