September. St John at Hackney church. My faith in live music as an opportunity for fresh discoveries is renewed with Naked, the duo of Agnes Gryczkowska and Alexander Johnston. I couldn’t bring myself to breach my ‘no gushing at musicians’ rule, so I persuade my girlfriend to do my dirty work, complimenting Gryczkowska while I just grinned and nodded.
The 30 year rise of electronic sound has opened up ears and heads to noise as an all-pervasive component of modern music. The result is that an album like Zone makes aural connections across both underground and mainstream: the spacious dub of King Midas Sound; grime; the bass pound of Death Grips; The Weeknd’s late night pulse; the aggression of Merzbow. There’s a joy to hear so much in the sound and still feel Johnston and Gryczkowska have created something original and fearlessly uninhibited. That confidence was present on stage: smoke, lights, sound and bodies working in unison a world away from the average dry ice n’ traffic lights approach. There was an assured sense of unity to everything on display and Zone is a perfect distillation of that vision.
They’ve learnt the most fundamental rule of album impact: like Nas’ Illmatic, they keep things to ten tracks, sub-forty minutes – and overwhelm by quality not quantity. Everything here hits the killzone as the duo explore an enthralling, and specific, sonic domain without ever settling into repetition. Their work has an intriguing duality: Johnston (and programmed drums) provide the stomach-churning low-end, while Gryczkowska’s voice flits breathily across the other end of the spectrum. The drums surge, drop out, splatter the soundfield, crawl across the floor shaking furniture or smack the listener upside the head. Around them, there might be an identifiable riff, or a roar of power electronics, a blurt of overdriven guitar resolving into a halo of drifting static – Naked have mastered irregularity, constant motion, an escape from tyrannously square beats or structure. It’s inventively unpredictable.
On an album of highs I’m now addicted to ‘Anomie’: a masterclass in vocal control. “Tell me what made me empty. Save me. Reinvent me,” come loaded with sudden stops, jumps, switches of speed and rhythm. The chorus soars, blurring words together in a sibilant chant – it’s all deliberate and knowing: the chorus is written in the lyric sheet to emphasise the way the words become continuous sound: “Oursensesdecay.Why?Ashumanswedeflate.” Words tumble, a few syllables stuttered out then the end of a sentence taken at double-speed before echoing up to the ceiling. The next track, ‘Body Mod’ is a pillow-talk confessional with each word cooed, breathed, pressed out in a haze of body heat and candlelit vision. There’s an agitated, manic vibe to both music and voice – but, rather than panicked or desperate, it always feels like music swept up in excitement, in anticipation of a rush of thrilled pleasure.