Although it seems counterintuitive, happiness and sadness can share space on the emotional spectrum, and even nurture one another. When grunge’s Kurt Cobain sings “I miss the comfort in being sad”, he sums up a generative ethos that would propel a lot of indie rock: people getting together to collectively lament the things that make them feel bad. For these listeners and musicians —and for those working in styles with analogous affective registers —dejected, bad feeling is reconfigured as an energizing force that can be mined for cultural production and the creation of connective bonds of sociality. Being sad here might not only be perversely comforting, it also takes on a novel form of valuation. Indeed, the feeling is nourished in such a way that happiness and sadness, as objects found in cultural products that sustain and generate a sense of well being, can begin to look a little indistinguishable.
On his debut EP Becoming N(one), released on Glacial Industries on May 13, Cleveland-based producer v1984 (aka Chris Ramos) finds room for play in the overlap that stems from the relational polarity of good and bad feeling. Unlike Nirvana, which delved into the self-indulgent sadness of this zone, Ramos sees an opportunity to cultivate and savor grand moments of inconclusivity and not ask them to result in firm action. Indeed, the EPs ethos seems most to flourish when emanating a kind of derelict but masochistically divine ‘stuckness’ in its own closed circuit, feeding on the very uncertainty and perpetual liminality of its own defining terms.
The scene for album closer the ‘Birth of Venus’, for example, is set with harangued, shoved, and delicately constricted arpeggiation through ethereal gestures. This transfers temporarily into lurching drones until the track’s titular ‘birth’ announces itself with a taunting minor key sequence. It articulates an emotional tremor that feels as if it’s going nowhere, yet zooms in and out simultaneously at delirious and diachronous intervals. It stops time and delves into a moment that would usually pass ever-so-quickly, unnaturally elongating it for a heightened sense of dense, close-up affective entanglement.
Forming a recurring sonic motif throughout the EP, songs like ‘Pre, Post, Pre(-lude) ii’’s scintillating, bent synths —high-pressure polish until overheated; glistening, and slightly damaged —are set alongside a fearsome lowend combustion and overstuffed packets of video game-type sound effects. Availing itself of this palette, Ramos’ sincere kind of expressivity structures itself with references to sonic frameworks both timeless and distinctly ‘now’. This is particularly pronounced on on ‘Crying Beneath The Surface Of The Ocean As The Sunset’s Rays Flicker Into The Indefinite Horizon’, which pairs a grandiose Hollywood piano solo with Atlanta 808s, flourishes of grime, and data that’s strained and granulated into confounding shapes.
What’s most rousing about Ramos’s pursuit in Becoming N(one) is how it straddles both zones—joy and sorrow —at once, afloat yet submerged; balanced yet dipping. This is relayed precisely on the aforementioned track, where the listener is taken barely below but close enough to the surface that we can still see the sun’s slow-grinding skyward turn. Fuzzily striated into earnest arrangement, the track’s lithe, starkly fluid movements evoke a smeared horizon, extending through dusk’s matte. Dappled light diffuses underwater, interfacing with its listener as their tears drip forth, indistinguishable from the sea around.
Our sense of the sublime doesn’t arrive with the sunset and what it signifies—which here might conventionally indicate closure or renewal—but rather with this process of becoming-both-at-once: joy and sorrow, ocean and surface. Less than the individual sounds or evoked images themselves, v1984 breaches and persists with Becoming N(one)’s relation to messy polarity by way of a montage-style —symmetrical exchange, unzipped and tossed into emotionally spectacular unrest. Formally, the EP could be understood to jam, in the improvisatory sense, on climaxes punctuated around their unceasing flow, lined up in congruity. The ecstasy of becoming both none and one intensifies. It lets the contradiction it implies slip from expectation’s pressures, breathe, and then expand into a billowing, formidable event, preening its own curls and textures. In this space, we can ask, not what constitutes synchronized joy and sorrow, but what might be constituted by and through their conjoined resonance.**
Header image: v1984, Becoming (N)one album artwork. Release via Glacial Industries, May 13, 2015.
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