There’s an intangibility to Katie Dey’s music that’s difficult to articulate. It’s best to point to specific moments: the hopeful opening pings of “you gotta get up to get up,” “all on you“‘s submerged longing, “unkillable“‘s squealing rush. Those three tracks — all from the Melbourne-based musician’s first release, asdfasdf — exhibit a sonic complexity and emotional dexterity that feels unprecedented, and evades simple explanation. The joy of Katie Dey is in the experience. At one point during our conversation about her upcoming new full-length, Flood Network, Dey describes music as a sort of “weird magic,” an unidentifiable and unknowable force. “I think a lot about music as very specific medicines for different problems,” she expands. “But abstract problems — mental or spiritual or whatever. Like an anti-venom.”
Dey’s music does take on a medicinal quality. “Hope Reset,” her contribution to the Sam Ray-curated Art Week 2016 compilation from earlier this year, projects both a playfulness and emptiness: “I will change my life to the rhythm of others lives,” Dey sings, her voice aerated, light, and uncharacteristically clear. “I can reset myself/ I’m hoping I can fall in love with the thought of falling in love.” I’ve turned to it a lot in the last few months, when things got too loud, isolating, overwhelming. The way that Dey melds the organic with the inorganic, the conceptual with the textural — it feels like an approximation of our innermost anxieties and fears, the same soupy mess that’s swirling around in all of our heads at any given moment. Hearing that confusion reflected through Dey’s music hits on an instinctual level that’s hard to pinpoint.
That mutability is at least partially intentional: Dey puts value in the obfuscation of meaning; at times, it feels like she’d rather abandon the concept of language altogether. Instead of relying on lyrics as a crutch to convey emotion, she uses the sounds of words to convey what she wants to get across: she morphs her voice to echo what she’s singing about, strategically makes it so you can only pick at wisps of phrases. “I wanted the meaning to come across subconsciously,” she says. “I tried really hard to make it so that the feeling is there, and it’s universal. You don’t need to know English or be able to decipher cryptic poetry to derive meaning from it.”
Dey takes the nature of pop music and inverts it, refracts it beyond recognition. “My creative process is a mess,” she admits. “Any possible way a person could start to make a song, I’ve probably tried it.” That messiness and experimental streak is apparent on the way that Flood Network, her new album, is laid out. It’s nine fully-formed songs scaffolded around a series of interludes — titled “(F1),” (F2),” and so on — that are there to provide some structure and interconnectedness to a seemingly disparate mass of ideas. It makes the album take on a patchwork, tapestry-like element, each square filled with cognitive associations and disassociations.
But there’s an intentionality there, too: “As the theme of the album started to develop as I was writing it, I began to understand the function that the interludes could serve conceptually as these sort of pathways of information and feeling that serve as the messy middle-ground between full ideas,” she explains. “I spend most of my time in those middle feelings. I don’t just jump from fully-formed idea to fully-formed idea in my life, so I wanted something to represent that.”
That embrace of that unnerving middle ground is what makes Dey’s music so special. “Fear O The Light,” the album’s lead single (which you can listen to above), is ostensibly a companion to asdfasdf’s similarly-named track “fear o the dark,” but its composition and complexity are indicative of how much Dey has progressed as a musician in the year since her debut’s release. Though the lyrics are obscured, there’s a line I wanted to highlight for how beautifully it captures the magic of what Dey is doing: “You have my soul, you gained it when I gave up on me/ So I sit around making animal sounds out of cutlery/ To turn it out, to find the sound of sanctuary.” Flood Network is Dey’s attempt to find her own sanctuary within music, and in turn to find a stable place within her own life. We’re lucky that she’s allowed us to peek into that process, and that the results of that sanctuary resonate so beautifully. It’s truly an anti-venom.