Jean Cousin’s first album for Constellation Records performing as Joni Void is called Selfless, a name that’s as much a statement of purpose as it is an album title. On the day of the album’s release, Void remarked on Facebook that “the album is intended to represent an out-of-body experience, through any means necessary — music, cinema, art, death, drugs, mental or physical illness… it is a ‘projection’, in the various meanings of the word.” Cousin borrows, interprets, and incorporates other material into his little pieces, trying to let the borrowed material dictate the direction of the project.
Clearly, it is still his art, and it carries the Joni Void name, but it’s an interesting exercise in intentional dissociation. The non-collaborative tracks liberally employ found sound and samples; the collaborative tracks go so far as to carry the name of the collaborator in a parenthetical appendage to the title, further de-emphasizing Cousin’s contribution. The only bit on the album that Cousin admits to performing in the liner notes is the bass on the second track, “Observer (Natalie’s Song)”.
The spoken word from Natalie Reid in that very track may well provide the inspiration for Cousin’s direction here: “Sometimes I hate to think that I exist inside of other people’s heads… I am shaped by their past, not mine.” Reid’s spoken word dominates “Observer”, whose backdrop is minimal and abstract, but it pays to listen. It’s the one track that explicitly lays out the aims of the album.
The uncomfortable ambiance of “Observer” extends to the rest of the first half, which is the stronger half of the album. Opener “Song Siènne” is an interpretation of an Erik Satie piano piece, a lovely, uneasy thing that can’t help but tremble as its arpeggios float through the song’s runtime. “Doppler” is exactly what it sounds like, a found-sound doppler sound effect repeated and stretched to song-length. “Aesthetics of Disappearance” is the first hint of what the latter half of the album offers, with glitchy beats and bells offering percussion and texture; everyday sounds turned to drums and a structure that builds into something more menacing than we’ve heard to this point.
The album turns on “Désolé”, a paranoid, creepy minute of ambience that seems designed to confront its listener’s fears. From there we get things like “Yung Werther (Ogun’s Song)”, a glitch-heavy track with Ogun Afariogun contributing something that sounds like either a tribute or a parody of the worst, crudest imagery hip-hop manages to muster. On the one hand, the venture into hip-hop gives the listener something to hold on to. On the other hand, it’s so confrontational as to be downright off-putting. “Abjection” follows, all elephantine factory noises and Kraftwerkian kling klang, serving as the highlight of the noisy back half. “Agnosia” is fairly interesting as well, hollow melodies and more staticky beats, along with the occasional intrusion of “Tom’s Diner” for good measure.
Selfless is largely a successful experiment in that it becomes very difficult to tell just where Cousin ends and his sources and collaborators begin, especially when he breaks down their contributions into beats, melodies, and soundscapes. Cousin keeps himself off-balance by making every track its own little entity, and he keeps the listeners off-balance by throwing in little winks and hiccups right when the listener finds a rhythm. At one point he throws a doorbell in, unexpected, innocuous, and clear enough to have you glancing at your own front door. It’s a nifty trick.
Selfless is more than a series of tricks, however. It’s a fascinating little piece of art that may struggle a bit to find memorable moments, but is worth listening to if only to see just how far outside himself Cousin can manage to travel.