The short album teases at many different directions, settling on an indecisive stroll around the trailhead of each one.
Cosey Fanni Tutti exerts an indescribable amount of influence over contemporary electronic and underground music. Her time in Throbbing Gristle helped define the early industrial sound, and her work since has spanned decades, media and collaborators, always hitting a sweet spot between subversion and substance. Her latest, one of her few solo efforts, finds Tutti delivering eight industrial and IBM tracks of relatively equal length, with each composition an opportunity to show a different side of her musical life. The short album teases at many different directions that Tutti could take, eventually settling on an indecisive stroll around the trailhead of each one.
More than just randomly tossing these styles around, however, Tutti makes careful sequencing decisions. The album’s progression is a steady descent from hard-rocking industrial techno into spacious drones. The title and opening track is Tutti at her most abrasive, delivering room-shaking beats that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Helena Hauff’s incredible 2018 release, Qualm. The crunchy electronic textures are countered, however, by a human element: Tutti’s trumpet. The overblown brass playing suggests puffed cheeks and heaving lungs, furthering the sweat-inducing feeling of the drum groove. The following track, “Drone,” is purely electronic techno. While it is missing that biological foil that defined “Tutti,” it serves as an equally interesting study in the intrinsically warped quality of digital music.
The final leg of the album forgoes most of this percussion-based directness, focusing instead on the more emotive, abstract elements of Tutti’s work. As is the case with this album as a whole, Tutti’s sound design on these drone tracks is impeccable. While creating novel sounds in a scene populated by Arca, SOPHIE and more is a different story than in Tutti’s early days, her refined approach is. Unlike most of the language surrounding similar contemporary music, there’s no sense that Tutti’s music is “exploding” or “seeping.” A track like the closer, “Orenda,” shows her preference for control. The composition’s major-key harmonies are at odds both with its murky percussive base and its preceding tracks, but the forlorn, reedy swells throughout give a feeling of digitized blues. It’s succinct, strange and—unsurprisingly—one of the finest cuts here.
Since this linear album progression places its most unique tracks at its bookends, the middle tracks are a somewhat dissatisfying meeting of the poles. On their own, cuts like “Split” and “Heliy” are fine pieces of moody electronica, but surrounded by more extremist works they tend to feel lackluster. The vocal lines on the latter are noteworthy, especially as their spliced presentation highlights a similar human-machine dichotomy as the horn lines on “Tutti.” The entire track, though, is too jittery to wash over you and too monotonous to be a driving dance piece. As a whole, Tutti succeeds as a document of the varying styles and moods Cosey Fanni Tutti works in. Still, when an album’s best tracks are its opener and closer, that leaves a long road of lesser material between the high points.