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Refrains of the Day, Volume 1 Daryl Worthington , October 25th, 2023 07:27

Mexico City residents Aaron With and Milo Tamez hack boardroom vernaculars to disquieting ends, finds Daryl Worthington

Nothing really means anything anymore. Online communities are being bought and rewired from the top down. Spaces for independent music distribution are being exchanged by companies which unironically use words like ‘content creators’. The people who make these spaces a nice way of interfacing with the world and produce a value beyond what’s countable, are tallied as users. A metric to measure the profitability of digital infrastructure. The debut album by Mexico City duo Pidgins is vital because it takes something back. Reappropriating the linguistic junk of a system that puts a price on everything.

Across Refrains of the Day, Volume 1, the duo of Aaron With and Milo Tamez mix cascading rhythms with instrumentation esoteric and exotic, mbiras and hurdy-gurdies dancing through electronics and an ecosystem of percussion. This is a verdant space with a twist. Pidgins speak in the language of clickbait self-help and corporate guff, as track titles such as ‘Regression Analysis’ provide content for With’s incessant mantras. As the release notes explain, the point is to interrogate these phrases. That might sound dry and academic, but Pidgins are too accomplished at making free-wheeling, richly layered music for that to be so.

On ‘This Simple Hack to Fix Your Stomach’, a proliferating bed of hand drums and idiophone chimes underpin effects-drenched vocals. The cumulative effect is something like Panda Bear jamming with Julio ‘Chocolate’ Algendones. A soulfulness leaking through to soothe ailments beyond those flagged in hyperlinked blackholes.

The later tracks freakout more, as though forcefully shaking vapid slogans into something with substance. On ‘Content Marketing’ the titular phrase gets chanted into a feverish stupor. ‘Still In Progress’ has With’s voice pitched down into pure lethargy. But what conjures limbo also conjures possibility. Tamez’s percussion gently mutates to shade the dead time with movement and grace. ‘Profit Shifting’ evokes a rainforest. The title phrase suggests even that could be commodified, but as it's chanted into a tender lament, the possibility emerges that something more profound might still be hiding under the canopy. The title phrase is chanted into a tender lament, painting a world fully commodified, and the possibility something more profound might still be hiding under the canopy.

Everything hits a moving crescendo on closer ‘Search Optimization’. A plodding beat swiftly sprouts new limbs. With’s voice sounds like it’s being microwaved as he plays with the track title. Just as it’s about to implode, they hit the most unlikely serenity.

What makes Refrains of the Day, Volume 1 so compelling is its reversibility. You could hear this as depicting a situation where everything has been commodified and echoes of rich music traditions have become soundtracks for productivity jargon. But the intensity and depth of Pidgins’ playing breathes new life into dead cliches, triggering an excess of meaning where meaning seems to have all but disappeared. They hack and re-animate corporate jargon and SEO-spawned vernaculars to create genuine escape routes.