There’s a now-classic 2007 episode of Doctor Who in which the titular time-traveling Doctor, stuck in the past and communicating to a character in the present via pre-recorded video, describes time as being “a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff”. The same episode features antagonists who resemble stone statues of angels and who can jolt their victims into the past in a literal blink of an eye. Coincidentally, figures similar to these angelic nemeses appear on the cover of A Fragmented Love Story, Written by the Infinite Helix Architect, the debut full-length album by Little Snake, and “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff” is an apt description of the music contained within.
Little Snake is the alias of Canadian producer Gino Serpentini, who began composing and uploading tracks to Soundcloud in his late teens. These tracks caught the attention of the Minneapolis label Renraku and later Los Angeles hip-hop experimentalist Flying Lotus, who began spinning Little Snake tracks at the legendary Low End Theory club night. A series of EPs on Lotus’ Brainfeeder label followed, on which Serpentini developed a distinctly exuberant maximalist sound that has more in common with free jazz than dance club music.
Serpentini, whose surname means “little snake” in Italian, apparently began composing A Fragmented Love Story in a very DIY fashion on an old MacBook Pro with a shoddy headphone jack that used a TV as an audio output before he was able to access better resources. It was made entirely without hardware in the virtual studio space of the computer. The album was intended by Serpentini to “be a signal to those who have experienced the consciousness of a dualistic pattern they may find themselves in” and “creating conversation for those who suffer trauma beyond comprehension and cannot talk about it”. In other words, the record is meant to act as a form of mental health therapy using reality-bending sound design and speaker-disintegrating bass.
The metamorphic arrangements on the album can resemble something like field recordings from the Quantum Realm. “Fallen Angels”, the first of two collaborative tracks with Flying Lotus, melds a buzzy bass line with imploding beat suites and an angelic choir. Other tracks like “FEVER DREAM” and “The Machine” incorporate segments of lo-fi piano, which quietly loop and add a peaceful sense of melancholy amidst an otherwise mangled cavalcade of sound. Moods shift wildly; sculpted waveforms ascend and descend and violently burst out but are then brought back to a calm space.
“Decimation of Movement Over Time” is as warped as the title implies. Rarely does anything resembling a steady tempo last for more than a few bars, except for when Serpentini briefly drops a catchy synth melody and a 4/4 techno beat. The second half of “Raining Teeth” features the closest thing to a human voice singing melodically. These moments are fleeting, but the familiarity serves to ground the tracks and recalibrate the listener when needed.
Nearly half of the tracks are collaborative ones to some degree. However, the tracks credited to Little Snake alone are frequently the more challenging ones. They are seemingly the more personal ones as well. Titles like “hang in there..” and “In My Head” reflect Serpentini taking his mental health mission head-on. An arsenal of waveforms and beats are deployed, mutating and melting like liquid metal before disintegrating into scattered atoms, creating a dreamy sense of unease. The distorted boom-bap beats of “In My Head” give it a definite hip-hop feel, albeit a highly frenetic one.
On the closing track, “TO FIND LOVE IS TO SEEK THE END”, there’s a moment when a voice, possibly Serpentini’s, asks, “Is this real?” That question is the most basic one for anyone who has psychosis. It remains unanswered amidst skittering beat suites, music box-like arpeggios, and radiating synth bass until the very end when a sample of a female voice utters “Anata ga suki desu”, which means “I like you” in Japanese. In the context of this record, “I like you” as a response to “Is this real?” seems completely appropriate.
Thinking of this music as a form of therapy is intriguing. One of the greatest functions of music is to express things that cannot be expressed literally. Someone could write a song about anxiety or the weight of depression, but what do those things feel like? What would they sound like? The controlled chaos and fragmented collage of these tracks are a more likely answer as opposed to anything resembling a straightforward, traditional pop song.
Two artists in particular that come to mind while listening to A Fragmented Love Story are Arca and the late, great SOPHIE, both of whom constructed alluringly warped and plasticine soundscapes that nevertheless sounded unmistakably human. Like the music of those artists, this music will, without a doubt, require a certain type of listener prepared for and attuned to its wild blend of glitchy, mechanized psychedelia. However, I’m not suggesting that it requires work to enjoy it. An infectious quality makes the listening experience much more digestible than one might expect, especially on repeated listens. Ultimately, what we have here is an adventurous odyssey inside one young man’s mind that is well outside of the easy comfort zone of pop music, perhaps as it should be.