X = Why? Annette Peacock's 'X-Dreams'

In 1978, legendary music artist Annette Peacock released X-Dreams, a phantasmagorical exercise in harnessing the slipstreams of dreamed noises.

Glean a Little Dream...

When Annette Peacock emerged from seemingly out of nowhere in 1972, her most prescient statement in sound was captured in the startling, mesmeric conception of I’m the One. An impressive document of nearly impossible desires and arcane sound, I’m the One is an emotional eclipse, a passionate red mess that bleeds with drama, both animal and human. It wasn’t her first album, however. An early recording, entitled Revenge, made a few in the industry nervous with its long stretches of sonic experiment and the resulting label issues ensured that the album had a rocky release. It is thus often believed that I’m the One is Peacock’s formal introduction to the world, and it may as well be.

It’s just as well that I’m the One would find itself into the public’s consciousness as the embodiment of what Peacock’s sound is about. The album’s boldly sensual strut traced a mean line through an electrical storm of complicated desires; it was the anxious answer to the unasked question of the female drive – a referential point of which women of the ‘70s discovered ideas about artistic mobility.

Peacock would struggle to gain status beyond a cult symbol of female empowerment, despite the clear fact that her music spoke directly to those who were exploring modes of communication in new ways that looked to the future; her work embraced and encompassed both men and women. I’m the One came and went, leaving an indelible impression on some of the most forward-thinking artists in the music industry (David Bowie, in particular) before submerging into the depths of obscurity.

So when Peacock resurfaced in 1978 with X-Dreams, her statement in both music and female-centric narratives arrived as a gentle reminder of what came before in her work. X-Dreams was in no way a second chapter of what she had articulated on I’m the One. It was the energy of the times projected into a reality far ahead of the present possibilities – the collective sentiments which seemed to emanate from a realm beyond corporeal existence. As the album title suggests, X-Dreams depicts the endless streams of language found in dreams, a transient moment that has been frozen by the coiled magic of Peacock’s words and her uncanny ability to capture image in sound. Overall, it's a phantasmagorical exercise in harnessing the slipstreams of dreamed noises.

A vast aural terrain of confused desires and heartbreak not readily articulated by the vernacular language, X-Dreams explores the points of transitions in a young woman leaving the world of her youth behind. Nothing personifies more the turbulent emotions of pain, excitement, anxiety and longing than the opening number “My Mama Never Taught Me How to Cook”, written about Peacock’s relationship with her mother and its rippling effects on the men in her life.

A curiously astute observing of maternal impositions, Peacock’s swampy groove executes a steady walk across a poem of restless self-determination. Here, the struggles between women who battle conflicting ideologies created in the rift between generations are realized with poignancy and humour: “My mama never taught me how to cook/ but my brother taught me how to eat”, she saucily relates over the dirty slink of the sensuous funk. In the interplay between sax and guitar, there's the clear centered voice of a cosmic verse turning in on itself with the riddling questions of pride and despair.

Those cosmic forces found in the flowing diction of Peacock’s poetry blossom into the nebula of “Real and Defined Androgens”, a steady groove etched with the rough lines of electric guitar and the jazzy licks of piano. The blue-mood poem intoned over the brewing rhythms speaks of sexual ritual and behaviour. When the song’s second half closes out with the anxious circles of a saxophone drawn around various instrumental threads, a new language is signalled in to negotiate a certain space in semantics. In these interstices, all possibilities of love are referred. It's a brave, unflinching, nearly formless expression contained neatly within the contours of a carved and shapely poem; the substance of the language has no definition but it fills the blank verse like a waterlogged vessel.

Experienced through the vistas of “My Mama...” and “Real...”, one learns how codas and linguistic slips in Peacock’s work are indeed modules of musical dialect. Often abandoning the formatted structures of song verse, Peacock’s practice in poem-assemblage leads to a constant reformation of text; every narrative seems caught in a moment of revision, either on its way down toward a base of conceptual matter or on its way up toward its construction of design. Coordinated in practice yet wholly improvised, Peacock’s words are strung together in ways that suggest a dialogue in poem, discussions to be had in stanzas.

Even in the moments of convention, when the artist wishes to merely sing her worth of heartache, the airs of alien desire hang. “This Feel Within” promises a composition of pure drama rested within a block of immovable structure. Constructed like the cool, glass tank of an aquarium, we watch what we hear. That is to say we “see” the sounds float by; emotions, like animate matter, producing movements in an essence both liquid and human. Here, an aquatically-stretched vocal rides a slow wave of rhythm and all dreams are sent upwards from these depths.

When those dreams find a most ambiguous point of destination, it's in the vaporous airs of “Too Much in the Skies”. A chilled groove of soft, fresco-inspired blues-pop, the colours with which Peacock uses to paint a day full of marvels are simple but illuminating. By the song’s end, an image has come into focus: in the calm, quiet airs of a lonely afternoon, the notion of an improbable man has been made real – a dream personified in human flesh. In the submission of self and soul, the chemical jazz of a superlatively lush offering is boiled down to the waft of perfumed steam.

Such impressions of oneiric designs are transfused into Peacock’s silvery jazz-pop cover of Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel”, the album’s lone composition not written by the artist herself. The arrangements here render the tune completely unrecognizable; it may as well be an entirely different number altogether. Shrugging off her usual diffuse and dreamy poem-speak for the bold terrains of simple pop music, she turns Presley’s original into an artful exercise in reframing testosterone-driven rock ‘n' roll as something stridently cool and resolutely feminine.

Concluding the album with an equivocal statement of love, “Questions” hangs in the air with the suggestion (or hope) of closure. Circling around the restless angst of feelings not yet discarded in relationships now ended, Peacock sings of moments relived, of opportunities granted once again. The love has not ended and its accompanying feelings stretch over into the eternity of dreams. In these dreams, a woman searches the endless skies for some incomplete answer that points the way to an infinite love.

Just what are these skies? It’s the siren-call of the synths you hear overhead, providing the song its slow hiss of serene air. Or an untapped feeling, its image invoked and given shape by some theory or adjacent emotion. Perhaps it's some inhibited space in the heart and mind where all our dreams lie in wait.

From some unknown periphery comes a pressing query – a point of genesis from which all answers in the ether float...“Why?”

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