Photo: Courtesy of NNA Tapes

‘Our Hands Against the Dusk’ Is Rachika Nayar’s Striking Take on Ambient/Electronic

Brooklyn-based composer Rachika Nayar’s first full-length album Our Hands Against the Dusk is infused with a kaleidoscopic beauty.

Our Hands Against the Dusk
Rachika Nayar
NNA Tapes
5 March 2021

The cover of Our Hands Against the Dusk shows a photo of two hands intertwined. One of these hands belongs to the composer and audiovisual artist Rachika Nayar, and the other is the hands of one of her friends. The image alludes to the deeply interpersonal experiences that colored the four years Nayar took writing this album. While electronic/ambient genres may seem, in some artists’ hands, as cold and clinical, Nayar’s music stems from deeply personal experiences and encounters. The music reflects that in many ways.

Our Hands Against the Dusk (the title taken from a Richard Jackson poem) manages, quite effectively, to combine sharp edges with soothing warmth. For every metallic glitch, a sustained, welcoming chord envelops the listener. Much of the music derives from Nayar’s guitar playing, which is the sonic linchpin here. On the opening track, “The Trembling of Glass”, guitar notes tap away insistently, not unlike a keyboard, sonically manipulated while ethereal chords swirl in the background. The song stops and starts as if it’s something of a dry run. Gentle fingerpicking dominates the final part of the song, which ends in an odd, abrupt manner. The music is warm and dreamlike, but not without plenty of rough edges. Much of the beauty of this album derives from its quirks and stutters.

On a song like “The Edges”, Nayar’s eclectic nature offers up atonal guitar scratches, heavenly vocal chorales, and glitchy distortion, once again displaying her unique knack for bringing together a variety of sounds that coalesce oddly but fittingly. On “Losing Too Is Still Ours”, Nayar adds vocals to the mix, giving the track – its title taken from a Rainer Maria Rilke poem – a somewhat operatic flavor reminiscent of a moody film score. The type of musical diversity present in this song and many others comes from Nayar’s upbringing in a small Midwestern town devoid of musical communities. Discovering music online, she delved into many sonic worlds, including modern composers, emo, trance, and much more. While Nayar’s young adulthood saw her coming into her trans femininity, drumming in queercore bands in New York, she rejects the idea of the album as an identity politics narrative, as it is one of many strands that make up her life and art.

Some of the album’s inspiration comes from Nayar’s Indian heritage, as on “Aurobindo”. The track is named after the Indian yogi Sri Aurobindo, who believed in a spiritual realization that liberated and transformed human nature, enabling a divine life on earth. “Someone in my family had a moment of ‘darshan’ (essentially ‘a vision of the divine in Hinduism) at Sri Aurobindo’s Pondicherry Ashram many years ago,” Nayar explains in the album’s press materials. “The images in my A/V visuals often stem heavily from my dreams, which in my head hold a special relationship to this lineage of family mysticism.” Clearly, Aurobindo’s inspiration and the effect it had on Nayar’s family translate beautifully to what is perhaps the album’s most vital, deepest track. Clocking in at eight minutes, the epic, impressionistic piece is a dreamlike masterpiece, with long stretches of pulsing, sustained notes, elegant guitar figures, and hazy, wordless vocal intonations.

The album’s closing track, “No Future”, contains many of the same elements that make “Aurobindo” so engaging. The song’s luxurious run time gives Nayar the opportunity to stretch out and experiment with many different ideas, including plaintive strings and a section where random notes sound like raindrops on a tin roof. The final minutes of the track consist of a beautiful, deeply emotional piano coda that sounds like it was flown in from a completely different album. One of the many things that make Our Hands Against the Dusk such a compelling, deeply engaging listen, is Rachika Nayar’s ability to draw from so many different styles and areas of influence, resulting in an album that is both admirably eclectic and beautifully focused.

RATING 8 / 10