The differences between the cover of Melbourne artist Katie Dey’s new album, Flood Network, and that of her debut, asdfasdf are quite telling. Though they share similar color schemes, the reds, yellows, and blues have gone from pastels to the vibrancy of a graphical imaging of a neural network. Her face has gone from complete obscurity to some features being identifiable. And while it still conveys the overwhelming nature of internet culture, the easily read words of the title are much more communicative than the home-row jumble of its predecessor. It’s as if she had once embedded herself into the internet, and is now further in control, able to have digital neurons to fire at her will.
Two artists come through strongly in her fusion of pop songwriting and intentionally messy electronic production: Animal Collective and Alex G. You can hear the trippy digital spirals of the former’s Centipede Hz during Dey’s instrumental interludes, while her melodies are as sweet as Alex’s and similarly interrupted by pitch-shifts and high-powered glitches.
Similar to the changes between album covers, Dey’s lyrics have become more intelligible than ever — even if that often means only a handful of words peak out of the nanotechnology haze. “There’s a hole in my heart/ Can’t wait til it starts to fill up with mud in a flash flood,” she sighs on “Fleas”. On “Fake Health”, a slow heartbeat of fuzz and bass keep threatening to overtake her abstracted lyrics about dissatisfaction and erasure. “I hate what I can’t make attainable,” she seems to cry. The phrase “I want to be” bubbles up a few times in the midst of opener “All”, as well as the repeated “I want to be.” Lyrically, she shares space with the likes of Ricky Eat Acid, an artist she admires, shading simplicity and its perceived ease with creeping shadows.
The specificity of the uncertainty and darkness isn’t as important, seemingly, as the fact that it exists, even through all this brightness. To that end, another Animal Collective-related touchstone could be the record Avey Tare made with his then-wife, Mum’s Kria Brekkan, Pullhair Rubeye. Just before releasing the record of choppy, droning acoustic tunes, the pair flipped everything backwards, making their already cryptic lyrics more difficult to parse, and yet the distorted childlike feelings persist, much as they do here.
asdfasdf featured a tune called “Fear o the Dark”, and its other half, “Fear O’ the Light”, is a standout here. The former may be the more logical fear at first blush, her guitar brooding and dark, bass wobbling, vocals shifted into a near wail. “The Dark” is made out as both having a mystic pull and a disorienting terror. But ever the one to see both sides, “Fear O’ the Light” is equally mystifying. Perhaps the easiest composition to follow, the song is jammed to the gills with lo-fi bedroom pop fuzz, the fear stuck more in fragility of connection, of being seen out in the open light. “You have my soul, you gained it when I gave up on me,” she sings. The song around it sounds so positive that the line should be sweet, something about someone being there for you when you need it most. Yet there’s a real fear in being that open with another person, something reinforced by the feeling that the whole song could crumble away at any moment.
The pleasures don’t come exclusively from themes and lyrics, though, Dey sure to cram in as many grand moments of indie pop as possible. On the gloopy “Only To Trip and Fall Down Again”, Dey’s snap-crackle-pop composition has some echoes of The Cure at first, but gets too bubbly in its electronics to feel stuck in homage.
That fragility and potential to collapse similarly runs through the structure of the album. Flood Network largely alternates between relatively straightforward indie pop songs and instrumental interludes. Some of these interludes (cleverly named after the F1-F9 keys on the keyboard to reinforce her concerns and connections to digital existence) drop off the cliffs that their preceding tracks built, electronic collages taking elements of the other tracks and stretching them into nebulous clouds. At any point, the record feels like it could fall apart into a pile of guitar chords and digital code. But when it hits the sweet spot, the wobble is infectious and compelling.
Essential Tracks: “Fear O’ the Light”, “Fleas”