oOoOO and Islamiq Grrrls' 'Faminine Mystique' Is a Hypnotic Merger of Artificial and "Authentic" Cues
oOoOO and Islamiq Grrrls' Faminine Mystique succeeds because it sustains a curious and unique mood and combines proudly artificial signifiers with others associated with authenticity.
oOoOO / Islamiq Grrrls
18 May 2018
The new album from oOoOO and Islamiq Grrrls is post-Internet genre agnosticism that settles on a sort of digital version of roots-rock. Think The Basement Tapes, but swap the warm communalism of Big Pink with how we think of basements nowadays: hermetic places inhabited by digital-age degenerates, lit by sickly computer-screen light and redolent of rotting garbage and bong smoke. It's an effective and unexpected merger of rock 'n' roll with the proudly artificial, vaporwave-adjacent music that dominates the underground electronic world.
You might remember oOoOO as one of the leading lights of witch house, a movement whose mix of gothic indie rock and molasses-slow Southern rap makes more sense now than it did at the time. (He's not the only member of the coven to crawl back out this year; White Ring is prepping their official debut for June 22). Islamiq Grrrls from Los Angeles is a relative newcomer; though no one knows her name, it's a relief to learn she's actually a Muslim woman.
Together, they've made a hypnotic and exceedingly strange record that casts a gothic pall for a surprisingly fleet 49 minutes. The dominant instruments are guitar, solemn pads, a MIDI piano preset that I'm pretty sure is "Bosendorfer Piano Classical" on Logic Pro, and the two artists' voices, tangled in Auto-Tune. Contrasting with these sterile arrangements, the guitars have an alluring country grit, especially as "All of Me" bursts from somber atmospherics into a hearty, faintly Southern rock arrangement that wouldn't sound out of place in a Breaking Bad spinoff.
"All of Me" begins with the same line as the jazz standard ("all of me/why don't you take all of me"), and indeed there's a curious referential streak throughout the album. "Be on Through" references Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" and ends with a pitched-down sample of the Eagles' "One of These Nights", a song whose transient vastness transcends its sleaziness and mood-wise isn't far from the songs on this album. And could the title of "Yr Love" be a reference to Holy Other's song of the same name, one of the crown jewels of the witch house movement?
It's hard to figure out the point of all these references—or even how sincere they are. It's a little frustrating when you can't tell if music is pulling your leg or not, especially in the post-Daniel Lopatin, post-James Ferraro age where sincerity and irony are often indistinguishable from each other. The Auto-Tune could be seen as a nod to that tool's ubiquity in chart music, and again it's unclear whether it's a sign of affectionate poptimism or a bitter joke at the fact that they're not pop stars. I'd gander the former, but the ambiguity raises these kinds of questions.
Ultimately, though, they're distracting and take us out of the spell the music casts into a more analytical world where we wonder about their intent. Even some of the genre nods feel like punchlines, like a micro-snatch of breakbeat on "Y're gonna Love Me". Breakbeats are undergoing a controversial renaissance right now in dance music culture; both of the collaborators on this record are based in Berlin, the world capital of underground dance music, and it's not unlikely they've overheard conversations about this age-old sound's return to glory.
Faminine Mystique doesn't succeed because of its references or because of any attempt at culture jamming. It succeeds because it sustains a curious and unique mood and combines proudly artificial signifiers with others associated with authenticity. There aren't a whole lot of albums that sound like this, and it's hard to say why oOoOO and Islamiq Grrrls weave in all these bits and pieces from other worlds when the world they create is so endlessly explorable.