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Album Of The Week

Mist Through The Bits: Dreaming With Coby Sey's Conduit
Arusa Qureshi , September 15th, 2022 08:00

The South Londoner's debut proves quite the trip for Arusa Qureshi

Coby Sey by Ksenia Burnasheva

My dreams have been really vivid lately. In one, my cat has gone missing and though I can hear his strained meow in the distance, I can’t quite get to him. In another, I'm measuring out where I want to be buried in the woods that a friend chose as her final resting place almost two years ago. It sounds bleak, but in those recurring dreams, there are always moments of light. My cat returns eventually, proudly carrying flowers or toys in his mouth. Or in the woods, I get to meet my departed friend once again. There is somehow balance amongst the disorder.

Sometimes, I listen to music as I'm falling asleep and I often wonder what effect certain cadences have on the worlds I end up in. Earlier this month, for example, in a post-Edinburgh Festival haze of exhaustion and illness, I spent a good chunk of time drifting off and, in turn, dreaming all kinds of weird and wonderful things. But on one particular day, highly medicated and clearly delirious from a mild fever, the soundtrack to my semi-slumber transported me, piecing together those recurring images in quick succession, like I was floating amidst a beautiful cacophony of sound.

The soundtrack in question – Coby Sey's Conduit – begins with the Lewisham musician and master improviser's isolated, echoing words before a swirling pit of distortion gradually envelops them. Throughout his debut album, the atmosphere is built up around contrasts and dichotomies: dizzying loops and glitching sounds coupled with eerie, spaced-out electronics; soul and jazz melded with grime and techno; bold and abrasive verses peppered with hopefulness and truth. The opposites – of light and dark, rousing and reflective, intimate and all-encompassing – are what allow this record to soar, simultaneously taking you along for the ride.

From the two opening tracks 'Etym' and 'Mist Through The Bits', Sey's free-flowing and quietly urgent rapping breaks through the static and texture of the instrumentation, anchoring you to the real world as you allow yourself to meander. On lead single 'Permeated Secrets', his vocals are layered with a trip-hop backdrop that makes you feel trapped and encircled, but not necessarily in a menacing way. When you listen to this track, close your eyes tight, and as Sey speaks about oppression, freedom, the pandemic and political uncertainty, you might just feel part of something like I did that first time I heard it, and for a minute, not so alone in your frustrations, whatever they may be.

As it gently fades out to nothing, you have around ten seconds to charge up your emotions before 'Dial Square (Confront)' begins, coming in strong with Sey's repeated snarl of the word "confront." "Don't try and come at me acting like some lackey," he raps in an almost whispered intensity, "You act like you're lacking on some fundamental faculties." The unwavering beat behind his resentment is hypnotic but there is real power in this hushed anger too.

If you're thinking about the images that might accompany these tracks, 'Dial Square (Confront)', for me, is a crowd of people, determined, together, and unified in intent. In contrast, 'Night Ride' is sitting solo in a dark, cramped room as anxiety and despair overwhelm. It's the stuff of nightmares but not unwanted; you need the doom so that the light can poke through more clearly. And that's exactly what happens in 'Onus', a gentle, ambient number accompanied by mellow keys, in which Sey delivers Conduit's most hopeful refrain: "Been inside now we got our notice / We need to support each other and focus / All we got is us in the moments / Make it through tough times, it is our onus."

If, by this point, your mind is well and truly on another plane, the next track – the ten-minute, one-take 'Response' – might allow you to resurface for a second. The song opens with a wall of dissonance before you're once again transported by shrieking, stuttering saxophones and strings, the steady build-up to Sey's words and his incessant, impassioned cries of "Active!"

In a recent tQ interview, Sey described the track as the "storm" of the record, which, to me, is the perfect visual description. It's like the thunder, lightning and rain desperately needed after a heatwave to steady the atmosphere; the catharsis you feel after really letting go. "'Response' was about capturing that moment," Sey added of the track. "There were no rehearsals for that particular song, we did the jam there and then. Within the context of the record, it feels like an accumulation of all of these mixed thoughts and feelings, and then boom! This is the section where the confrontation happens and let's see what comes out as a result."

If 'Response' is the storm, closing track 'Eve (Anwummerɛ)' is the aftermath – an instance of tranquillity and reflection after the emotions have bubbled over. It's a genuinely lovely piece of music, with a meditative piano and subtle vocal harmonies encapsulating the album’s overall push and pull, the soft sounds of rainfall eventually bringing you back down to earth.

I may have been unwell when listening to Conduit for the first time and, sure, that may have influenced how deeply connected I felt to its sonic landscape. But in its attempts to find balance between stillness and movement and light and dark, it took me somewhere familiar.

Everyone knows that music can transport and heal and do all of those things that seem annoyingly cliché. My dreams have been really vivid lately because truthfully, there is a lot going on, internally and externally. In a way, Conduit was my reminder to embrace other worlds because that's where you're likely to find the balance you need to keep your feet firmly on the ground.