Gazelle Twin: Unflesh

Guy Mankowski

Gazelle Twin's Unflesh is as immaculate as a hotel in a JG Ballard novel, and just as bloody scary.

Gazelle Twin


Label: Anti-Ghost Moon Ray / Last Gang
US Release Date: 2014-10-14
UK Release Date: 2014-09-22

Gazelle Twin’s Elizabeth Bernholz spoke recently in an interview about her creative approach. She described how, following a personal crisis, she decided to “blank canvas” her entire approach to making music. On her debut album, The Entire City, we saw this comprehensive thinking realized. On Unflesh, her second, Bernholz’s blank canvas thinking (more grey-sky than blue-sky) is realized in a series of tracks that seem more tightly bound, even vacuum-packed. This effect is a result of the production, which removes any organic quality to an instrument or vocal. Combined with the impact of the whispered vocals this lends an air of claustrophobia to the album.

Unflesh is in essence a post-Kid A album, an extended critique of postmodern living. Kid A took everyday sayings (“The big fish eat the little ones”, “you’re living in a fantasy world”) and by repeating them imbued them with a sense of importance. Within the context of the modern, electronic music the lyrics were used in, the album thereby reflected unsettling aspects of the modern world. The context of the ‘modern world’ was offered by the music, influenced as it was by Aphex Twin and Autechre.

Unflesh seemingly shares these influences, with Bernholz also using common phrases (“I’ll beat them all at their own game”) and by repeating them against electronic accompaniment she also puts across a wider critique of the modern world. In fact what makes Unflesh 2014’s version of Kid A thematically is how the album reminds illuminates the fact that since the year 2000 our concerns surrounding technology have diversified. If Thom Yorke, with Kid A, used his concerns at the first human clone as an emotional theme for the album, here Bernholz expands these worries to make them fit the present day. For instance, she has spoken of how “Belly of the Beast” describes a revenge fantasy, in which animals rendered as dead meat in a supermarket come alive to wreak havoc. On both albums doubts about technology, particularly with regards to the suppression of natural processes, are portrayed musically.

Elsewhere on this record Gazelle Twin’s musicianship explores new ground. “Guts” starts with the sort of riff Prince might be proud of, and “Premonition” is built on the kind of airy, expansive synths that evoke her former collaborator, John Foxx. Bernholz’s vocal palette has expanded too, with her voice evoking (during long notes that act as compositional solvent) Bjork. There is a sense of mastery to these tracks, a sense of great detail in the performance and production. Both sound as it they were not improvised, but were well-rehearsed. Consequently each song carries with it the impression sense that every impact it has upon you is intentional.

This is, without a doubt, a manifesto of an album. From the supermarket bleeps of “Belly of the Beast”, to the incessant five-note thrum of “Anti Body”, Gazelle Twin is offering critiques of capitalism, a system of living which is not only buckling under scrutiny, but which is now overrun with maggots. In a comprehensive interview with PopMatters, Bernholz talked of how the supermarket bleeps were included to allow her to musically explore the way supermarkets are a “microcosm of capitalism -- all the really bad shit under one roof”. In “Belly of the Beast”, the subterranean vocals evoke Tricky; it’s the sound of an urban observer cursing under their breath as they survey a decaying metropolis. “Bite the hands and the fingers that feed,” Bernholz intones. Crunching beats evoke a destruction that was visualised in the supermarket-wrecking video that accompanied the songs release.

The theme of “the subterranean” is a motif that runs throughout, with the video to “Anti Body” portraying an underground, liminal space in which a hooded, disturbed figure at once commands and is commanded by an abandoned school shower room. The track unearths Bernholz’s past demons regarding the Body Dysmorphic Disorder she suffered as a teenager. She described to me how she “trace(s) many things back to that time and place where I felt at my most anxious.” The source of her anxiety was, she realised, the school changing room. The video recreates that emotional time, exorcising its pain in art. It also evokes a dystopia that we recognise as chillingly prescient.

The tracks on Unflesh are, perhaps unsurprisingly, most effective when they are also explored visually with an accompanying video. The visual form allows the sense of foreboding and the power of the music to be fully expressed. When it is, the album acts as an effective metaphor for a world in which the forces of commercialism make the individual look inwards, and create private strategies for survival. Just as Bernholz did when she conceived her artistic approach. This album, with its pristine interiors, captures the intimacy of her trauma perfectly. It’s as immaculate as a hotel in a JG Ballard novel, and just as bloody scary.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.