How bizarre the term ‘witch house’ sounds when one listens to the recent oOoOO release, out on Nihjgt Feelings, June 24. “Sad ghost house” would be more fitting: the spacious, blurry soundscapes created by Chris Dexter, who initially rose to fame with a wave of microgenres from 2009 to 2010. In witch house, hypnagogic pop, chillwave electronic music was a tool of evoking, or recreating, mental states: nostalgic reverie, a border between dream and reality, hallucination. In various shapes and forms, the trend still continues – even though the aforementioned labels seem to be largely out of use.
It’s yet another expression of electronic music’s astonishing ability to reveal the conditions of contemporary life, from euphoric trance to the numbness of automatisation and endlessly repetitive tasks. What oOoOO offers in 2013 is the familiar feeling of urban melancholia, with a mildly haunting touch. Dexter’s closest musical relative is not the witch house or chillwave roster of 2010, but Burial and his underappreciated precedessor, Third Eye Foundation. All of these artists share a penchant for building delicate compositions out of elusive, fickle and often misshapen fragments, and all of them share a sensibility for emotional dimensions of late night city solitude. Compared to Burial and Matt Elliott, OooOO is fairly cheerful (within the limits of gloom) – lacking the nearly-spiritual pursuits of the former and the heart wrenches of the latter. In its dreamlike amorphousness, Without your Love resembles an unhurried stream of memory, in which captured sounds, thoughts and reflections blink, dissolve and reappear.
The ‘hypnagogic’ strains of contemporary electronic music sometimes reveal an affinity with the rawness of Bristol’s original trip hop – the difference being that it is thoroughly modern, futuristic RnB, not organic reggae and soul, lying at the core of the hallucinatory flow. In OoOO’s songs, among skeletal RnB constructions scraps of melody and voice float like little fluffy clouds. The early 90s references are no accident, appearing on Without your Love a few times. ‘On it’ is nebulous rave-pop, which – after some polishing – could have been released by Opus III or Olive, while a repetitive chord and a tiny cut-out of a soulful voice, the main components of ‘The South’, resemble remnants of a rave anthem. Combining distortion with micro-portions of euphoria, these songs sound as if somebody found bits of broken vinyls dropped once by a Hacienda DJ and tried to glue them together into one record. In other places, Without Your Love can be quietly melodic, as in its title-track, unsettling or slowly rolling into a slightly awkward electronic ballad. In certain moments, Dexter heads towards sparse, minimalist RnB-pop, while in others he reveals an impressionist side. It’s an interesting listen, which, while it may not stand out, deserves a careful listen nonetheless. Under the smoky, slow-paced surface, there is a flurry of carefully interwoven elements; a fragile soundspace busy with detail, OooOO’s Without You Love embodies the joy of discovery.
Header Image by Kristel Jax