Puce Mary - The Drought

A Closer Listen

Copenhagen’s Puce Mary makes her first showing on our site with her best album to date.  Torbjørn Rødland’s striking cover imagery is reminiscent of Kirk Weddle’s work on Nirvana’s Nevermind. The comparison is even more apt when one links Frederikke Hoffmeier and Kurt Cobain as confrontational innovators.

While this has been the year of the #MeToo movement, there’s more to women than their interactions with men.  Puce Mary may use her voice to speak, or shove harsh industrial soundscapes to the frontline, but remains in control at all times.  The opening diptych of “Dissolve” and “A Feast Before the Drought” sets the stage for an emotional onslaught, a battle between technology and the heart, temptation and innocence, commerce and the soul.  Hoffmeier names “psychological famine” as the impetus for the album: skinned dryness, parched compassion.  The album is an attempt to recover health through unflinching self-examination, every weakness and vulnerability exposed until the flaying seems like strength.

This is not a gentle album.  The surface horror of “To Possess Is To Be In Control” is reminiscent of the darker excursions of spoken word artist Jane Amara Ross, while the music draws comparison to Gazelle Twin, whose own album Pastoral was released 21 September.  In its loudest, most abrasive form, industrial music has always contained incredible power, and Puce Mary taps into this power as if it were a jackhammer welded to a hand saw.  “Red Desert” lays it all out:  I’ve been tortured by a feeling of drowning under you, under society, politics, the decay of nature, my lack of interest … and I feel desperate.  So many of us feel this way, but lack the vocabulary or courage to speak it out loud.  As modern as the foreground music may be, the presence of an organ in the background is a reminder of old, failed ways.  A late line is especially chilling:  to hear a human voice and trust that it comes from a human who was made like me …  The rise of technology, in particular speech synthesis and deep neural networks, has caused us to doubt what we see and hear.  Westworld may already be here.

With a screech and a roar, Puce Mary has produced the weapons of resistance.  She never seems angry, despite the cogs and gears; instead, she sounds determined.  She doesn’t simply take the tools from her oppressors; she wears them.  The result is less a reaction than a declaration, a greasier, grimier version of “This Is Me.”  Nobody washed this music off.  Nobody cut out the rotten parts or sloughed off the rough edges.  There’s no artifice here, no makeup, no forgiving lights.  The Drought is raw, exposed, festering and bright, a re-definition of beauty that seeks no outer validation.  (Richard Allen)

Tue Oct 02 02:01:06 CEST 2018

The Quietus

Frederikke Hoffmeier’s fourth album as Puce Mary concerns itself with the aesthetics of hunger and thirst, and the inevitable outcome of coping with an apocalyptic drought. Torbjørn Rødland’s wonderfully rendered album art provides us with such a vivid representation depicting the many forms of hunger and libidinal drives caused by such malnourishment. From such an expressive image, The Drought sees the continuing transformation of Puce Mary and her music, from monochrome blasts of industrial noise, to dense, intricate vistas of dread.

While creating its textures, Hoffmeister articulated what she terms “a transformation through a psychological famine,” where “vulnerability is confronted through regeneration”. After the opening track ‘Dissolve’ - in which circular drones buzz harshly overhead and an unnameable thing tears through the space - ‘A Feast Before The Drought’ presents humanity lurching remorselessly in a blizzard of orgiastic noise and mournful howls. From here on, all that’s left is ambient desolation. But what really intrigues - and at times unsettles - is not so much the splintering power of noise and its abrasiveness, but rather the gaps of eerie stillness that are devoid of energy and agency.

For someone starved of food, culture, or agency, the only noble response to this situation is one of violence. As with 2016’s The Spiral and her 2014 split album The Female Form, Hoffmeier uses genre motifs of noise and industrial music here, not so much to bombard the listener with adolescent fantasies of power, transgression and provocation, but instead to look at such violence as possessing empathy based on action and transformation.

The visceral power of Hoffmeier’s music, such on the jarring ‘Fragments of a Lily’, heaves and almost buckles under the weight of its own brutality. But throughout The Drought, Hoffmeier instead concerns herself with themes of estrangement and desire, and how we cope when such feelings can be all-encompassing towards our bodies, and even our identities. This is writ large in the second half of the album, where ‘The Size Of Our Desires’ and ‘The Transformation’ mixes body horror and soundtrack dynamics, complete with bleak silence, guttural drones and rhythms. At the centre is Hoffmeier herself, uttering lines such as “you’re lost in your apocalypse. Now you have neither shape nor size” with the detachment of someone who both recoils from, and is intrigued by such imagery.

The high-point of this physical alienation is ‘Red Desert’, which takes its cue from the the 1964 Michael Antonioni film of the same name. Like the film, the desert and wastelands are not so much topographical but industrial and existential, of a person withering away in an uncaring environment. Hoffmeier, in an anaesthetised yet intense monologue, lays out the depth of her existential disaffection: “I find myself feeling like decades have passed / I’m an old woman now, and I have lost my attraction / I’m tortured by a feeling of drowning under you, under society under politics and the decay of nature, my lack of interest / … and I feel desperate … I feel my eyes tearing up what should I do with them what should I watch?”

Accompanying her lyrics is music that builds in acrimony with discordant synths, clattering needles and formless heaving, before giving way to a humanistic heartbeat and sacred organs that build into an exploding sea of feeling.

If the The Drought concerns itself with metamorphosis, we can see it in how Hoffmeier has transformed herself as Puce Mary, from her earliest tape releases of formless expressions of noise in the darkness, to transmitting ideas and feeling through an increasingly complex musical vocabulary. This is her strongest album to date and one where “noise” is but a tool towards a much more expansive expression of music.

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Fri Oct 26 13:03:50 CEST 2018

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Pitchfork

Frederikke Hoffmeier’s voice is the thread that holds together her apocalyptic mood pieces, a cinematic take on noise that’s driven by dead-eyed focus.

Sat Oct 13 07:00:00 CEST 2018