Experimental electronic music has a certain weighty seriousness associated to it. Sometimes veering towards masochism rather than fun. But the two tendencies needn’t always be oppositional. In the case of Katie Gately – a California based vocal manipulator – her mangled futurism makes the two near inseparable.
Self described as a set of seven “maximalist electronic compositions based on the idea that more is more”, Color is a frantic tethering from genre – perhaps to an even greater degree than fellow vocal experimenter Holly Herndon. Layers of warbled vocals flit from the blatantly ridiculous through to the playfully disfigured – aiming to balance “forty-nine percent obnoxious and fifty-one percent fun”.
Her ecstatic approach requires constant re-calibration on behalf of the listener. What is she doing? How does this still groove? Both a scrambled eyesore and precise surgical procedure. Equal parts carnal and digital. The compact density is made instantly apparent on the opener Lift, setting precedent for the sheer levels of giddy excess.
A great deal of confounding or opaque music functions through a process of obscuring. In Gately’s case, rather than shrouding her crazed ideas, they are presented as all the more vibrant and clear. The seven songs end up being displayed as grotesque faulty mannequins, extra limps protruding from the synthetic surfaces, deceitful smiles sloppily smeared on.
Perhaps the most odd moments – on a record brimming with just that – are when something recognisable enters this alien environment. Lift features either a horn, or something which sounds uncannily like one, whilst the glacially paced title track includes an actual bass guitar (even if its tasked with leading a sci-fi funeral procession). These more conventional instruments become the visitors in Gately’s sound world – as oppose to something which provides a comforting reminder of music’s history.
Unlike Pipes – her bizarre 14 minute opus – Color is not as strictly dedicated to the process of limitation, allowing more sound sources than just her ravaged vocals. Still a crucial feature, they can resemble their original source in the same manner that The Thing’s alien resembles it’s devoured victims
Without wanting to focus on the masochism rather than the fun, the album succeeds due to it’s dual emphasis on head fuckery and earworms. Gately would be the first to admit Tuck draws on Justin Timberlake as much as it does the history of field recordings. What makes her experiments so exciting, is the knowledge that at its heart its pop music, only at its most maniacal and deranged.
Words By Eden Tizard