Perhaps it’s because I’m sitting in front of a slow, old computer that Ami Dang’s debut album seems all dams, blockades, and stops. In other words, noises trying to get somewhere and being frustrated. Hukam opens into a stew of noise—a sitar plucked, an effect looped, Indian lyrics rising and advancing, a clang, a doing—and then resolves itself into something resembling the avant-garde pop music that the artist’s label website describes as “a mixed bazaar of sitar and hallucinogenic dance pop”. This lasts for the length of the second track. Then the rhythmic loops become introspective, lose their lightheartedness, and the nature of their situation appears to dawn on them. Trying to run forward, they discover that they are not real sounds after all, only recorded ones, and with that they are interrupted and returned to their own beginnings, where the same thing will happen to them all over again. Certain pieces of the music advance with more freedom, however, Dang’s sitar and voice seem pessimistic, particularly when she sings in English. She sings, “Can’t see in. Like a planetarium. Can’t see in. Can’t see in”. When her voice swells, some optimism comes in, but the real heart of the thing seems to lie with those blocks and stops, the trickles that escape only emphasize the frustration of the dammed. “Ami K. Dang is a composer and multimedia artist born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but currently stuck in Oberlin, Ohio,” states one online bio, possibly tongue-in-cheek or cheerful, but I fixate on the word stuck.
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