May 1, 2017

LP: APHRA - Sadness is a Gesture

APHRA offers an innovative pop exploration of darkness.

If you take a long hard look at pop music, if you really scrutinize it under a microscope – as has often been done before – it’s easy to find traces that prove it's one of the most corporeal forms of music. Longstanding within pop are the residues and solubles of dance music: the rhythms of house or the pummels of dubstep or the broken beats of club music, all borrowed for the exact purpose of getting people to get up and move their bodies. Even fingerprints of bodily music left by artists like Matthew Herbert and Bj√∂rk still mark pop's output. On top of that are the vocal expressions of the most universal and animal instincts: love, sex, excitement, and anger. Pop music, despite the decade, thrives on its relationship to the body. Move, sweat, breathe, fight, consume, desire, POP! And if pop is structured around the human body, then the latest album from Rebecca Waychunas is a diagnosis of a human illness; one that is uniquely hominal and incomparably devastating: addiction.

Waychunas describes this collection of seven songs as one that explores the “crippling confusion and heartbreak addiction causes.” She sings and produces tracks that play in the left field of pop electronica, but is constantly aware of the DIY scene that’s rocking around her. Whether it’s over-top a fuzzy guitar chord or a thudding, deconstructed dance beat, APHRA’s portrayal of sadness (as a gesture) through her voice and lyrics remains the uniting element of the work. On the especially fuzzy, crooning “Happy,” she plays the part of a torn-apart lover whose statement of “I just wanna see you happy,”  – a line that could bypass as cliche in your everyday pop song – comes across as clean and so painfully honest it can’t help but be believed. On “Oh Peter,” the vocals take a clear forefront alongside truncated contemporary club cuts and distorted vocal samples, but Waychunas’ personality of turmoil continues to hold true. She never puts forth as having all the answers. Rather, her music fully accepts a sense of confusion that splays open the way the disease of addiction has infected her life.

One of the most enticing elements Sadness is a Gesture has to offer is also one that plays to its prescriptive format. Each song holds great contrast to the ones surrounding it, playing with different instruments, melody patterns, percussion programming, and personal struggles. “Geranimo” strips back almost everything but Waychunas’ slurred prose and one reliable sampled drum beat. Then she jumps right into the steel-guitar-in-a-saloon slow burner of “Would You,” which finds Waychunas plagued by soulful blues much like Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield. Here she plays the part of nurse practitioner, prodding at the confusing parts of the body, looking for signs of malice or infection. She addresses siblings, parents, past generations, lovers, friends; picking apart her social life in order to lay bare her own confusion. She often seems to switch back and forth between pop-personality-meets-club act such as Banks or Kelela and soulful singer-songwriter such as Mitski or Mal Devisa. But most often when she gives herself the most room from this multi-faceted personality testing is where her music makes the most impact. The chorus of the penultimate “Rooms,” though it uses few elements past Waychunas’ own voice, is an obvious standout from the album: a catchy, clever melody that allows for true song showmanship. There are times where the album’s lack of singular identity feels patched or even disengaged with its own structure, but Waychunas herself bends all that disorientation to her will. She doesn’t need to delve deep into any one format to paint her own portrait as a witness to the diseases around her. Instead, her brutal honesty and anything-but-coy addresses do that for her. Behind every one of the songs APHRA has compiled here lies an honest artistic personality. Full of confusion and weariness, yes, but ready to work through any obstacle that comes its way.


Listen to APHRA on bandcamp.


Elijah Fosl is a freelance music and culture writer who's really bad at describing themselves. They hail from Louisville but live in Chicago where they work, ferociously devouring cassette tapes and local produce. Find them on Twitter at @elifosl or online at