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Brilliant queer and non-binary artists have been politicizing the dance floor for decades. From Sylvester to Arthur Russell, Peaches to Anohni, musicians and producers have shown that the nightclub is an ideal place for exultation, healing and release, where stigma and fear can--for a moment--dissolve.
Octo Octa, the DJ/producer alter-ego of trans musician Maya Bouldry-Morrison, uses the familiar terrain of '90s techno and breakbeat music to capture the warming sense of community that comes from thrashing within a safe and loving circle to a song that rises and falls with an obliterating ecstacy.
And make no mistake, this album rips. Early album standout "Move Your Body" starts with a repeated sung sample of the song's title before exploding into a decidedly Technotronic-esque burst of dissonant synths and an insistently skittish snare My inner 12-year-old JNCO-wearing teen exulted at "Ecstatic Beat," which weaves a Chemical Brothers-esque breakbeat into an all-out explosion of halting and stuttering rolls.
One could argue that this album's mere existence--insisting that queer and non-binary bodies of all sizes and abilities move, take up space, take flight--is political. On the other side, it's also just amazing, brain-obliteratingly good dance music until the last third, where Resonant Body gets more ruminative.
"Can You See Me" features the repeated invocation "I know exactly how you feel" sung repeatedly over an ascending synth line, celebrating the weight of acknowledgement and occupying space. The final song, "Power to the People," is a seven-minute showstopper, featuring an exquisite building up of chanting audio sourced from a 1980s ACT UP Rally that slowly escalates and bursts into a beam of shimmering chords and rally cheers. Resonant Body is a simple and wholly beautiful affirmation of freedom and abandon through movement.
Mental Health is Rae Spoon's 10th album, a feat that categorizes the singer-songwriter as one of the most prolific indie recording artists in the country. One wonders if this type of ceaseless grind and work ethic contributed to some of the sentiments they've captured in this record, which--if you hadn't guessed by the title--deals with aspects of depression, anxiety, self-doubt and loneliness.
Spoon's songwriting has always felt achingly intimate, whether they're singing about heartbreak, wrestling with gender in the heart of Alberta, or describing the doldrums of the touring life. With Mental Health, this laser focus feels even more acute, particularly in songs like "Again + Again + Again," which addresses suicidal ideation ("If you're on the edge/ promise you will call/ I will talk you down," Spoon assures the song's nameless subject) or the darkly anthemic opener "Go Away," in which Spoon warns any would-be loved ones to keep their distance: "I am a vampire/ I don't want to hurt you/ I can't make my own blood."
Given the gravity of much of the album's subject matter, Mental Health also casts an unflinching spotlight on some of Spoon's lyrical limitations, often leaving me wishing the lyrics cut a little deeper "Money," a dancier song about struggling to pay for medication, is almost frustrating in its lack of nuance "You gotta have money to buy the pills/ but you gotta have pills to make the money/ so where am I supposed to get the pills/ if I don't have the money," Spoon sings, hiding the song's rather leaden lyrics and lack of pizazz by drawing out the word "pills" in their winsome alto.
The album's highlight, "Inheritance," where Spoon wrestles painfully with the idea of family and hereditary mental health issues, fares a bit better and has some of the storytelling verve and dynamism I've missed from their earlier work. It's a resonant and poetic way to end an imperfect but mostly heartfelt album about a deeply difficult subject, and for this, Spoon should be commended.
BY ALISON LANG