A fully-realized soundtrack for a very specific apocalypse.
In 2017, Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing in The Guardian about the rise of Trump and the return of white nationalist discourse to the public arena, commented that there had been a brief moment of hope for the success of liberalism with Barack Obama’s election: “In those days I imagined racism as a tumor that could be isolated and removed from the body of America, not as a pervasive system both native and essential to that body.” Now, of course, we are seeing the ultimate fate of that wishful moment and it is into this moment that Moor Mother’s latest album, Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes emerges as whatever brief flowering of liberal and democratic possibility our species enjoyed is, light by light, being extinguished by nationalism, racism and the too-easy portrayal of abuses of power as some perverse new normal. Equally, it is important not to fall prey to the same temptation and make some kind of fetish out of Moor Mother’s biting, furious and often delicately-constructed sound collages, beats and acerbic rhymes. Moor Mother’s work across her career is no mere intellectual exercise but a running commentary on lived experience, a series of discussions about life for African-Americans within the omnipresent structures of racism, woven together with those systems and spitting out its rhythm and noise as a highly articulate critique.
Camae Ayewa, as Moor Mother, plays a prominent role in Wrecked, the new album from Justin Broadrick (Godflesh) and Kevin Martin (The Bug), and her latest solo album fleshes out the work evidenced there. Rhis newest album further refines and solidifies the processes and furious beat-making of her 2016 album Fetish Bones, here offering a series of powerful song-length compositions punctuated by shorter collages and manifesto-like explosions.
Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes opens with “Repeater,” where a dense cluster of drones accumulate, rattling against deep synth bass notes while a violin saws and strains upwards. From the outset, this is uneasy listening at its finest. Less a song than a soundscape, Moor Mother groans “Over our head, repeater, deceiver/ Over our head, death receives us.” “Don’t Die” is a muddy, blurred bass-and-snare workout, held together with a ruffled and grainy drone and it is with the album’s third track, “After Images,” that the developing acceleration of the first two tracks are lifted into a kind of death rattle hip hop, kicking off with a collage of spiritual hymns and falling into a galloping rhythm, noting that “I don’t believe in lies, I don’t believe in truth/ I need their head as proof,” because “… after they come for me/ They gonna come for you.”
The too-brief “Engineered Uncertainty” opens with Paul Robeson singing “Nobody knows the trouble I seen,” his antebellum resignation overturned by the snare shots and buzzing abrasive noises that blur his every statement into a painful grit. The equally short “LA92” offers a savage, slowed-down indictment of the 1992 Los Angeles riots that occurred after the acquittal of four police officers charged with using excessive violence in the arrest of Rodney King. At only 90 seconds, the refrain “LAPD on PCP/ body bag body bag for you and me” makes it clear that nothing is forgotten or forgiven, that the past is very much alive in the present, exactly as it should be.
“Passing of Time,” the album’s final track, is one of the longer pieces and is slower, a little softer, a distorted spoken-word piece over acoustic beats and sung refrains. Achingly, she sings “My grandmamma/ My great-grandmama/ My great-great-grandmama/ They picked so much cotton they saved the world/ All by themselves they saved the world.” It’s a heartbreaking piece, and thoroughly gorgeous, the grinding and gritty drones giving way to a spaciousness of voices and rhythms.
This album is a fully-realized soundtrack for a very specific apocalypse, an urban collapse where the detritus of popular culture, the off-cuts and discarded moments, are revealed to be the things that mattered most. These sounds are the things that sharply highlight the obscene heart of a civilization where stolen snatches of police shortwave broadcasts aren’t just found sounds to be woven in because the genre demands it, but examples of the ways brutality and surveillance coalesce for those who are literally in the firing line of (white) power. What’s most horrifying is that the world described here is right now, not some cyber-futuristic soon-to-be-realized and romanticized possibility but the sound of collapse, of power, media and culture, life, hope and desire all being boiled into some ghastly but irresistible substance. Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes is frank, brutal and, at times, very hard to listen to; that’s exactly the point and exactly why it needs to be heard.