May 15, 2017

LP: Octo Octa - Where Are We Going?

Octo Octa's latest work euphorically explodes with the unexpected.

“I’m only really out on the dance floor.” Sorry, that’s not meant to be a heady academic reference to gender theory, it just happens to be something I said one night when I was pretty drunk at 3 AM at a bar. But for lots of people, loads throughout history I’d dare to reckon, it’s something completely true. Coming out, going out, out to your family, out to the dance floor, it’s all a blurry, homonymous part of the queer experience. Just think of Diana Ross and her three euphoric words: “I’m… Coming… Out…” These words defined the disco and then later the house movements we know and love. Ostensibly Ross wasn’t actually coming out [of the closet], but it serves as the perfect anthem to those with a closet in their timeline either way. Where Are We Going? the aptly-titled new record from Maya Bouldry-Morrison’s project Octo Octa, is a sonic manifestation of coming out. It’s euphoric, it’s gritty, it’s necessary.

Regardless of the fact that Bouldry-Morrison came out herself as a trans woman some time before this album’s release, Where Are We Going? deserves its own flashy celebration and it knows it. Unlike those pink/blue balloon parties that cis-people love to throw for their fetuses, Bouldry-Morrison’s Pandora’s box explodes with the unexpected. It’s a house album that stays truly seamless, despite its watercolor array of different styles. The first two tracks are relaxed, flowing into each other as binary paramounts of minimal construction and the emotions it can convey. The fluorescent keys that come in around the two-minute mark have a delicacy that could only be compared to Terre Thaimlitz, whose legacy of similar gender-revolutionary house framework weaves its way through every minute of the album. As a theoretical A/B-sided single release, the first two songs are flawless. Most house records couldn’t keep up the pace set by that first lap, but by the time “No More Pain (Promises to a Younger Self)” finds its groove, it’s obvious this isn’t like most house records at all. An aquatic meditation akin to Slow Riffs quickly tapers into a cacophony of soulful vocal samples and chaotic drums. The audience in the crosshairs here is most obviously the dancefloor, but on the album’s most internal moments it swerves to become internal: meditative and cerebral. At no point does Bouldry-Morrison come off as a DJ who needs some isolated vocal track over her songs, reminiscing on the meanings of each song and how it’s significant to a process. Her songs make their own statements. Like the person behind them, they contain multitudes of memory and reality.

The understated standout, “Move On (Let Go) [De-Stress Mix]” - one on which Thaimlitz’s influence is most present - is a crash course on what house can do. With a title that conveys a wrenchingly human uncertainty, a steadily confident attention to classic house and hip-hop motions, and a brilliant awareness of its own surroundings, it’s easily one of the best cuts 2017 has yet offered. Though the record sheds some of its vibrant luster toward the last couple of songs, it feels almost like a proper farewell. It’s a comedown that’s necessary for the elation levels conjured on the first six pieces. Strange as it may sound, this is a record of original music that simultaneously hints at Bouldry-Morrison’s skills behind the decks. It’s not just how she winds the tracks together, it’s her nearly-omniscient attention to emotional experience. Where Are We Going? may be asking a question even by the end of its hour run time, but it’s also a work that gives a lot of answers. Suddenly, the phrase “getting there is half the fun” doesn’t sound so corny. After all, uncertainty is not just a part of the queer experience, it’s a part of the human one, too, I’m told. Coming out to the after party or coming out of the closet, each turns on a specific axis of anxiety and euphoria, and that’s an axis on which Maya Bouldry-Morrison perfectly spins her sonic solar systems.

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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 elifosl.com.