The UK is a very different country now than it was when we started to write this review. The current pandemic has lead to food shortages, venue closures and social distancing. It’s been something of a distraction to say the least. With isolation, however, can come opportunity. This has led to many people questioning the way they live their lives and re-evaluating what is important.
London resident Rubie, a member of Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business and collective vocal group F Choir, has branched out to produce an otherworldly debut album. Self-produced and composed, Rubie plays all instruments present aside from the drums provided by Kit Denison. With ‘Take Both’ Rubie tackles gender identity and challenges the way we think.
What stands out immediately is the experimental approach to form and the minimalist nature of the constructs.
Opener A Polychotomy To Make Sense Of A Soup sets out the thematic manifesto; “I require a nuanced understanding of the ways that our wave functions overlap…” Sung in eery falsetto and accompanied initially by just a metronome and a sample from Joseph Beuys bizarre 1968 work “Ja Ja Ja Nee Nee Nee”.
Denison hits a drum groove and Rubie’s croon, swamped in reverb drifts over the top. This suddenly bursts into almost drum and bass (without the bass), with a strange underlying drone. Despite the minimalism it absolutely soars, Rubie repeating, with great drama “Wearing a legitimate nonbinary person uniform! I’m so pleased to be with you tonight!” It’s a brave but highly effective opener.
The Need takes a more standard approach, with guitar and drums. However, the instrumentation ranges from sparse to highly dramatic and really accentuates Rubie’s soulful vocal delivery. Lyrically it deals with transition and the complicated issues it can raise both for someone considering transition and the way it can effect relationships. The final two lines hit home the most – “I love you as you are. Could you love me as I’m not?”
Decipher this presents another different approach, this time, in its lo-fi production and folky guitar finger picking. The vocal approach feels more introspective and, at times, recalls the vibrato of Anohni. The variation in writing approaches already, in a sense, reflects the message that life can be approached by any number of angles. There is no prescribed way that anything has to be.
Anatomy continues the variety and sounds immense – a cavernous choir backed only by sparse, almost militaristic, drums. It’s spine tingling.
Nails introduces simplistic piano chords that begin to sustain and twinkle along with the vocals before a great crisp drum groove slices the song in half and Rubie’s soulful voice, at this point, starts to recall Dirty Projector’s David Longstreth, although with softer edges. The piano is reintroduced to combine the two approaches to dramatic effect.
Title track Take Both feels particularly pointed in its message. It’s a cyclical round that duels between the left and right speakers. Lyrically there is only one line, repeated throughout “I was taken to overcome my programming and take both”. This, aligned with the nature of the composition blurs the boundaries of old fashioned binary ideas. That both sides combine and resolve themselves together perhaps indicates completion.
What is remarkable about this album is the absolute minimalism involved for the most part, yet the richness of sound created. They Are a Follower is carried by a beautiful vocal melody that is only backed for the most part by staccato bass blips.
Be Your Daughter Plait My Hair is an achingly honest and stark a cappella while ’Whole’, at 6 minutes long, is the most expansive piece on ‘Take Both’. The production, the most lo-fi sounding on the album is married with the heaviest use of electronics. This creates textures that are not really heard elsewhere before giving way to, then melding with, a gorgeous sounding choir.
The often abstract approach to songwriting occasionally brings back memories of self-labelled ‘queer core’ project Sleeping States. No song does so more than closer Sailors. It builds from an a cappella intro, to include soft guitars effected with tremolo, electronic drums and a creeping, increasingly heavy synth bassline. There is a stunning moment near the end as Rubie sings “And I feel like I’m nearing the edge, I’ll cut my losses and jump” and the song drops suddenly to a swooning piano accompanied outro . It’s a captivating ending to a breathtaking and often thought-provoking debut album.
You may enjoy this if you like: Anohni, Dirty Projectors, Sleeping States, Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business, Julia Holter
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