Death Becomes Her feels connected to the current musical climate while also wholly caught in its own world.
To top off the triumvirate of debut albums from the NON Worldwide founders, Angel-Ho has signed with Hyperdub for her first official full-length. Under this moniker, Angel Valerio has slowly been taking this decade’s sounds of deconstructed club music and merging them with the hooks and structures of contemporary pop. Along with this musical development, Valerio has been solidifying her personal identity, coming out as trans and pursuing a bolder appearance, presented in the stunning portraits that accompany this album. Death Becomes Her is, of course, a potent declaration of individuality and importantly backs this conceptual grounding up with music that oozes a litany of traditions, an album that is always assertive and compassionate.
If the overall tone is grandiose poptimism, the production showcases a meticulous perfectionism. Even the catchiest moments here contain an unnerving element in the instrumentals, as in the bouncy “Like A Girl” with K Rizz. The beat suggests a dance floor, but the layers of conflicting vocal melodies are a delirious focal point. “Pose” is the peak of Valerio as an arena star and appropriately features the album’s best rapping. Starting with a menacing whisper, Valerio accumulates energy and explodes into a series of threats and boasts, delivering lines like “Do you really want to come for me / Are you sure?” with a snarl.
While these hook-driven tracks are some of the most memorable, it’s in the other, stranger moments that Death Becomes Her finds its purpose. Underneath Valerio’s pop star aspirations remains her love for abrasive experimentalism. Instrumental tracks, like the murky “Jacomina” or the baffling clash of carnival-like sounds on the closer, “Parachute,” recall Arca’s Mutant in their measured chaos. The constant back-and-forth between accessibility and boundarylessness could give the album an uneven feel. However, it is Valerio’s consistency in production and mood—the entire album has a transgressive grittiness to it—that holds everything together.
Especially over multiple listens, the distance between the album’s two poles shortens until it becomes indistinguishable. The melismatic melody on “Muse to You” would fit perfectly on a ’90s R&B track, but the beat is future-facing; the noisy clutter of synths and metallic percussion lines are far away from the slick ballad suggested in the vocals. “Baby Tee” is the closest to a would-be chart-topper, especially with K-$’s concluding verse. The singer’s breezy repetitions of “Safe space baby / This a safe space” gives the song a comforting warmth against the surrounding tracks’ aggression. The pinnacle of Valerio’s self-affirmation-through-exploration comes on the longest track, “Live.” Interpolating elements of other pop songs, among them the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” it is a centerpiece of unabashed musical love and creativity. Hearing Valerio belt “I feel so alive” atop the track’s noisy instrumental is a microcosm of the album’s strengths.
Like the best debuts, Death Becomes Her feels connected to the current musical climate while also wholly caught in its own world. Now that each of the three NON figureheads have dropped a flooring first record, the label’s amalgamations of the geographically-varying sounds are neatly distilled. Combined with Chino Amobi’s Paradiso and Nkisi’s 7 Directions, these three albums are a must-listen for understanding the current state of experimental electronics. NON’s most interesting quality has always been the ability to balance a breadth of style with a consistency in political tone and aesthetic approach, and Death Becomes Her is a powerful addition within that formula. It’s a record that refuses to back down from its uniqueness, even as its complete form becomes that of constant variation and evolution.