Berlin-based producer and vocalist J’Kerian Morgan has crafted a sonorous tapestry across four solo albums and a vibrant DJ career. Performing and recording under the artist name Lotic, Water demonstrates their uncanny ability to transmute the theme of water into dynamic soundscapes alchemically. The word Lotic means “of, relating to, or living in flowing water”. Water is one of the most common motifs in art for a good reason; as a necessary element to maintaining life, it can inspire seemingly infinite possibilities. Some usages of water as a motif turn out aesthetically pleasing but ultimately lack depth. Water is a dense and mutable project, a tour de force for what a thematic album can be.
For Black people globally, water, and bodies of water, in particular, cannot help but evoke the trauma of millions of African people ripped from their homes and turned into chattel property. Lotic’s album joins a tradition of black feminist thinkers and artists harnessing this history of horror to create powerful artworks. The introductory track “Wet” begins with deeply pulsating bass that glides into a menagerie of wails and layered sounds. The presence of vocals and the absence of lyrics serve as a murky nod back to Lotic’s earlier work. Yet, this expectation becomes immediately subverted for the rest of the album. “Wet” evokes a post-anthropogenic earth where new creatures have adapted to live on a planet fully consumed underwater. Listeners must grapple with a sense of synesthesia, putting aside our traditional five senses and allowing new ones to emerge.
The album moves between a mix of frenetic pacing and cacophonous sounds like on “Emergency” and “Always You”, to more measured rhythms on “Oblivious” and “Diamond”. All the tracks, however, are anchored by crisp and acute songwriting. In the finale “Diamond”, the angelic harps and mythic synths accompany a questioning refrain, “Why do I allow all of this pressure?” It’s unclear, however, whether the character in the song actually became a diamond. “I never wanted to be / To be your / Your perfect, perfect / Diamond” could be read in multiple ways. The character laments their suffering in one reading yet acknowledges that the outcome was the precious stone. In another, the character points out the sinister desires of whomever or whatever is applying all of that pressure in a failed effort to produce a diamond.
What Lotic has done here with Water reminds me of the Caribbean poet and novelist M. Nourbese Phillips’ magnum opus Zong. Zong is a striking epic poem that employs radically incoherent form on the pages. Rejecting the strictures of language and grammar, Phillips invents a novel method of bearing witness to catastrophe. In this real-life historical incident, merchants threw their African slave cargo overboard to collect insurance money. Phillips’ subversion of poetic form is a part of her method of “untelling“, a way of working through “stories that can’t be told yet must be told.”
Similarly, Lotic’s sonic method of deconstructing club music subverts multiple genre forms to express feelings that cannot be communicated yet must be expressed. While many themes are explored on Water, I could not detect a clear narrative arc. Instead, Lotic opts to explore the myriad states of being that water facilitates. One of the more friendly tracks on the album “Emergency” ironically displays a lack of urgency. Grounding synths and muffled percussion are used to tease the sounds of an “alarm” but are complemented by measured, contained vocals that belie a sense of immense power calling out in her pleas: “I need to see you / Feel you, taste you, reel you in.”
Water comes on the heels of a number of black feminist books utilizing water as a motif in recent years. One notable text is writer and activist Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals. Like Gumbs, Lotic invites listeners to become unmoored from their senses and to experience the world from a point of view that is both nowhere and everywhere. What bodily and spiritual sensations have we closed ourselves off from? And particularly for those whose bodies signify blackness, what has been stolen from us? “Couldn’t you feel? / Couldn’t you feel my heart reaching out for you?” Lotic sings on the penultimate track, “Oblivious”. Water becomes a liminal conduit for all of these meditations.