Elizabeth Bernholz is one of the authentic, original voices of today’s artistic landscape, and under the Gazelle Twin moniker, she has traversed incredible distances. From the darkwave-inspired, ethereal beginnings of The Entire City, Gazelle Twin bloomed into a hard-hitting, industrial-informed beast with Unflesh. To top it all off, 2018 found Bernholz again stretching her creativity toward an ecstatic avant-pop dimension with Pastoral. Gazelle Twin returns with Black Dog, a work that bridges the early and latter days of the act.
I find myself traveling back in time, remembering how Pastoral kicks off extravagantly with “Better in My Day”. It is a frenzied and bombastic anthem that refuses to let go. Fast forward to this day, and Black Dog takes a different approach, turning down the pace and allowing the ambiance to build. It feels like a return to The Entire City, with the grand vocal performance and the minimalistic instrumentation working in perfect coordination. The result is dark and harrowing, a cycle that completes with “Walk Through Walls”. As Berholdz sings, “I re-appear, I walk through walls,” the supernatural quality of this work just clicks. It combines a genuinely sentimental approach coupled with an underlying darkness. But even within this understated scenery, Gazelle Twin still imbues this restrained approach with a strong off-kilter aspect.
Beneath the layers of dreamy synthesizers, a primal core is exposed. Bernholz uses many tribal components in Black Dog to create a more muscular tension. The title track is a prime example of this, a strange imagery half found in The Hound of the Baskervilles and then the other half projected through a cyberpunk kaleidoscope. The beats coming through the darkness build this subliminal approach, the circular motifs becoming more and more harsh and unkind. This strategy dramatically pays off in moments like “Author of You” with its disfigured pop and electronic elements.
It can also potentially lead to more playful settings, as with “Fear Keeps Us Alive”, as the vocal delivery morphs into different characters and moods. It is this latter that opens up Gazelle Twin to the wonders of no-wave. How Bernholz stretches her compositions can be described, at the very least, as intense. The ending of the title track explodes through an overwhelming vocal performance as deeply discordant string orchestrations join. The same theatricality squeezes through the bizarre arrangements of “Two Worlds” and establishes a rich sonic tapestry of incredible depth.
While Black Dog dives mostly into the ambient, Bernholz still finds moments to reinvigorate some of Gazelle Twin’s other personas. Fragments of the brutal electronica from Unflesh come into view with “Unstoppable Force”. It is a twisted and unnerving recital, as the heavy beats are processed through Black Dog’s cinematic meatgrinder. Still, within this hostile environment, there are times when the nightmares allow some light to peer through. “Sweet Dream” offers a short respite from the harrowing and asphyxiating recital, while the closer “A Door Opens” highlights the beauty that can exist in sorrow as it calls upon Robert Schumman’s brilliance.
It is the mark of superb artists that they do not stay static. They do not want to feel comfortable within a particular sound or scene; they must keep changing and evolving. That is precisely what Bernholz has done with Gazelle Twin through the years. But also she does not disregard the past. Black Dog is the sum of these past strange adventures. The mysterious vibes of The Entiry City, the cold, brutal post-industrial of Unflesh, and the avant-pop musings of Pastoral. It is a work reminiscent of Gazelle Twin but also forges a new path. One that is able not only to merge these disparate aspects but also to surpass them. Can anyone even fathom what might come next?