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oddkin Matthew Horton , March 31st, 2021 07:25

Keeping it short and sweet, ioulus's debut on Rhizome is still sufficient to satisfy Matthew Horton

The etymological progress of the mixtape has felt almost retrograde. Where it once stood for lovingly compiled cassettes flaunting impeccable taste, and later evolved into freestyle hip-hop demos slipping under the record label’s radar, it now seems more like a cool name for a collection of songs the artist hasn’t the conviction to call an album. It tests the water. No surprise, really. That’s all we were doing anyway when we were handing meaningful C90s over to potential objects of our affection. If you like this, you might want to stick around for what I do next.

Billed as both a mixtape and a debut album, ioulus’s oddkin hedges its bets. If you take it as a mixtape, you needn’t rationalise its quicksilver sixteen-minute running time and head-wrecking restlessness. See it as a fully realised set though, and it really has to be something special to justify its short stay. Still, that’s the most rewarding choice. Succumbing to oddkin as a complete album lets you marvel at how much can be crammed into such a small space, a trinket box of wounded feelings and musical invention.

ioulus – Danish singer/producer Julia Becker – deals in frank simplicity, using repetition and insistence to imprint her message. She sets off a crisp, DJ Shadow-like loop on ‘ctrl bell jar’ and repeats “Trapped in a bell jar / I’m inside the bell jar with my anger” over and over until you can touch the frustration, feel the anxiety. It’s only forty-eight seconds but the claustrophobia’s near unbearable. On ‘cu cynical’, she harmonises with herself – a cappella, until a low rumble of bass joins in – layering “You should have thought about it” until she’s berating her target from all sides. Even with its choral prettiness, it’s a stark memo of disapproval. The blunt closing couplet (“Imagine a world without you / Such a happy place”) leaves no doubt.

It’s a similar story across the other thirteen minutes. Becker applies effects to her voice, sounding like a hurt robot poet as she remembers how she “planted a caress and waited / And thought it must die” over the shifting, sparkling dubstep of ‘clue of clay’, and pitching her tone up and down around the crunching, collapsing rhythms of ‘cross my heart cd’. Each song – or snatch of song – seems to emerge at the intersection where Frank Ocean’s ‘Nikes’ and James Blake’s ‘CMYK’ meet, shards of real soul piercing the ambient wash.

She’s at her purest (albeit soaked in delay) on the gorgeous ‘cmd shift s’, less than two minutes of happy memory (“You are back with balmy days / You are back with me”) that pass too quickly – but why ruin the moment? The song, like the other nine tracks, like any good mixtape, reveals just enough of itself to leave you wanting more. As an album, it’s impossibly compact, but rich enough to satisfy.