I’ve been listening to Katie Dey’s debut asdfasdf on and off for a few weeks now, and I’m still not completely sure what to make of it, so much so that I’ve put off writing about it until now. It’s achingly beautiful in parts, weirdly off-putting in others. I think that’s the point — it’s the kind of music that feels averse to criticism, existing in its own world with its own rules that don’t really apply anywhere else. She’s been vocal about how much she dislikes when criticism focuses on the lyrics, leaving the music itself to fall by the wayside — “they’re not nonsense they’re just abstracted,” she writes. “circling around meaning but like shooting for ideas further than conventional language can convey.” That’s not an original idea, of course — instrumental music has been around since music was being made — but the way Dey manipulates her vocals and evokes emotion feels like she’s especially good at the practice.
“folks give compliments to songs like “this is poetry” which seems totally reductive, it cuts away the entire thing that makes music special and reduces it to something that can essentially achieve just as much if it were written on a piece of paper.” Dey is making a sort of poetry, though, but she’s talented enough that she doesn’t need many words to do so. On “fear o the dark,” she layers heavy strums on top of warbled synth, slots electronic squall next to negative space. It’s a Rorschach test on which to ascribe your own meaning; it’s a million different things at once and also nothing at all. asdfasdf is filled with compositions like this, that occupy some liminal space between warmth and oblivion.
She’s hooked up with Orchid Tapes to put out asdfasdf on tape, a pairing that makes only too much sense as they both share a regard for the delicately pristine. Listen to “fear o the dark” below and check out the whole release here.