In 1981, Italian artist Luigi Serafini published Codex Seraphinianus, a 360-page illustrated encyclopedia of an imaginary world. Over the course of 30 months, Serafini drew bizarre flowers, impossible anatomies, and metamorphic love alongside the book’s text, composed in an original alphabet that has yet to be deciphered. None of it makes sense. As you begin to leaf through its pages, you’re reminded of how remarkable it feels to observe without comprehension, to process shapes and images without associations, to get lost in a world that presents itself void of assumed meaning. Angel Deradoorian has built a similarly strange planet, but she’s left us enough clues to navigate it without losing the wonder of the unknown.
The ex-Dirty Projectors bassist released her solo EP, Mind Raft, in 2009 — a mere month before Bitte Orca dropped and overshadowed her solo work. Since then, she’s guested on tracks with famous names and played as one-third of Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks. But The Expanding Flower Planet, her debut full-length, steps boldly back into a world all her own with floral vocals, poisonous instrumentation, and trippy experimentation, proving she is a force all on her own.
Deradoorian builds from the bottom up. The album’s songs begin with bass, snap drums on either side, and then pile psychedelic synth and electronic samples on top. For “The Eye”, that means pushing through a bubbled fever of lava energy until the bass line glows like the antsy loops of Suicide. “DarkLord” is the surprisingly dissonant, delicate sister to Swing Lo Magellan cut “Maybe That Was It”. Even with the harp-like strings of “Komodo”, Deradoorian manipulates her song structure to take on the manic bliss of a foreign jungle built on black tar. She stacks layers with a peculiar confidence despite their absurd, jarring shapes.
Above all else, Deradoorian can sing. The album’s songs are driven by her magnetism; it’s what draws a slew of collaborators like Flying Lotus, Brandon Flowers, and The Roots to her door. She blows “The Invisible Man” into a trance of soul-jazz acrobatics, twirling in circles while her own backing vocals cushion its leaps. When she begins lightly flicking the high frets of her bass and an eerie traveling circus organ solos in the song’s middle, her ineffable croons keep us from losing sight in the darkness. It’s easy to picture her as the evil sister of Argentinian singer-songwriter Juana Molina. Deradoorian sings not so much with jubilance, but with the wonder of a spirit possessed.
Occasionally, she splits her time between salty lyrics and a malleable flow akin to tarana, an Indian vocal form that slots potentially meaningless syllables in rapid procession. On “Ouneya”, Deradoorian shifts her voice so that words become beats on their own, taking on the rhythmic pulse of a drum circle. She embraces the vocal form again on “Expanding Flower Planet”, ripping through howls while a shaker patiently keeps the beat, floating somewhere between Laetitia Sadier and Annie Clark. The album’s opening number, “A Beautiful Woman”, races along a jungle of punctured bass, but its real shape comes from her glittering soprano vocal parts.
Though Expanding Flower Planet seems to carry its influence, Deradoorian honed a sound all her own both before and after her time with Dirty Projectors. She thinks in terms of surrealism, but she explains it through melodic phrasing. It’s there in the playful Fiery Furnaces tone of “Violet Minded” and in the samples of an 8-bit character falling to its death during “Your Creator”. She molds a landscape ripe with antiphonic vocal layers and dizzying instrumentation, especially on the folk/Krautrock experimentation of closer “Grow”. The song leans from side to side while it calls a wooden flute, vocal wind, and tribal percussion to join, a courageousness that should have been more prevalent from the album’s start.
Deradoorian joined Dirty Projectors when she was only 19 years old. At that time in her life, she listened to an excess of Radiohead and Can (both of which are notable influences here). She’s since grown — not away, not towards, but inwards. The Expanding Flower Planet sees Deradoorian embracing the endless walls of her mind and the innovations that can stem from that exploration. An imaginary world is striking not because of its contents, but because of the way in which we view them — detached, overwhelmed, inspired — a feeling Deradoorian captures with exciting promise on her debut LP.
Essential Tracks: “A Beautiful Woman”, “The Eye”, and “The Invisible Man”