The internet is vast and meaningless. It can also be uncomfortably intimate. The relationships that we forge online, through clacking away at keys, are not so different from music itself: ephemeral, something that exists but does not have a physical manifestation. A mp3 is not a song any more than the digital scroll is the total sum of a human connection. Except that they sort of are, or at least they can be.
Katie Dey’s new album, mydata, is about the intersection between analog emotions and virtual life, the blurry lines of what is real and what is not, why some things can feel so big when they are so small. The internet of Dey’s imagination is teeming with the potential for connectivity, and also the potential to get hurt. It often sounds quite elegant the way Dey phrases it: “Embracing through window frames, I am warm by her username,” she sings on the album’s penultimate track, “bearing.” “Tangled in internet, playing fake instruments, singing each other’s songs, dragging our bodies along.”
Dey’s music has always existed online. In another world, a trans pop artist making songs out of her bedroom in Australia might have had a hard time being noticed, but Dey has found an audience thanks to the boundary-melting power of the internet. Since she first started putting out music back in 2015, Dey has made songs that sound like degraded files, bits and bytes reduced to a computerized soup. The songs are weird, but they’re also approachable. Take away the digitally fucked sonics and they’re downright universal. She basically makes hyper-modern piano ballads, rooted in old songwriting traditions — a girl and a piano, trying to bang out some existential crisis. Nowhere is this more apparent than on her latest album, in which she updates the treacly ballad for a generation that has always felt more comfortable in the numbness of content overload.
mydata isn’t too much of a departure from what Dey has been making over the last few years, but everything is captured a bit more cleanly. The album revisits some of Dey’s earlier material, and makes it clear just how much she’s grown. “data,” a one-off released back in 2018, is given a transcendent reimagining here as mydata‘s closing track, staticky skyward guitar-like sounds pushing it to that next level. Small adjustments are also made to “hope reset,” here called “hoping,” making it even more achingly devastating.
Dey has been at this for a while now, and these songs show restraint and confidence. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s “fake” on a Dey song, and that’s sort of the point. Everything is real just as much as everything is fake. The piano keys are warm and soothing; her string arrangements suggest ornateness but are really just pieced together through random files on her computer. Every Dey song is a collage, a mix of intangible sounds that adds up to a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It sounds like synapses firing and fizzling out, popping and crackling into the ether.
Often Dey uses her voice as just another one of those instruments, language indiscernible and bleeding into the larger picture. But she does that less on mydata, lets her words stand up to scrutiny. “As I get older and my ideas of how I want to present myself morph and evolve, I want more clarity in myself,” she said of the way she uses her voice on this album. “I want to be heard and understood, and I want to convey a self that isn’t misinterpreted as much.”
She started down this road on last year’s solipsisters, but a lot of those songs were about depression, and her voice’s mumbly remove mirrored the feeling of being trapped in your own mind. That album explored digital connections in its own way, too, but often found them empty and lacking. She finds something a little more worthwhile in online relationships on mydata. Those connections, however tenuous they might be, are rendered in beautiful poetics.
Love in Dey’s hands is often quite sad, a tug between allowing yourself to be happy and seeing all of the problems before they happen. “I need you to be my choreographer,” she asks on the sputtering lead single “dancing.” “Dance the moves laid out for her/ Don’t hold back, I’ll move however you want me to.” The song’s tumbling romance is also kind of tragic, a plea that positions love as something entirely out of your control. “I want love/ I’m not above it,” she mews on the album’s next track, “happiness.” “I want life with less pain/ With no more suffering, no more hungering/ No more borders, needless torture.”
A recurring theme in Dey’s songwriting is about the limits of a corporeal body; sometimes the only way we can be fully realized is in the glow of a computer screen. On the evocative “hurting,” she sings of physical discomfort with a virtual remove. “Give me every surgery/ I wanna resurrect/ Bodies I do not know/ People I have not met,” she sings. “Carve out any cartilage/ That could lead me to myself/ Sometimes pain will fuck you up/ And sometimes it can help.” The same freedom provided by the internet can also be a trap, a painful reminder that when you finally log off that you’re still just you.
Dey’s songs are like ghostly apparitions, afterimages burned into your brain of what could be. But it’s heartening how hopeful mydata can sound with the weight of all that. The overall drive of the album is about trying to take care of yourself — these are love songs to the idea of getting better, finding stability, becoming more self-reliant. Sometimes the internet can help in that journey, and sometimes it can hurt. But it’s up to you to figure that out. Or as she puts it so well herself: “Remember to recharge your hope when your battery gets low/ ‘Cuz nobody’s gonna do that for you/ And it’s not their job to.”
mydata is out 7/24 via Run For Cover. Pre-order it here.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Living legend Shirley Collins’ intoxicating blendof folk traditionals and originals, Heart’s Ease.
• Jessy Lanza’s twitchy and groovy All The Time.
• Sada Baby’s new mixtape Bartier Bounty 2.
• Logic’s “last” album before retirement No Pressure.
• Courtney Marie Andrews’ striking and meditative Old Flowers.
• George Clanton and 311 leader Nick Hexum’s woozy collaborative album George Clanton & Nick Hexum.
• The Rapture frontman Luke Jenner’s debut solo album 1.
• Liza Anne’s nervy and rocking Bad Vacation.
• Jess Cornelius’ sharp debut album Distance
• Ecostrike’s monumental singalong A Truth We Still Believe.
• Jon Hassell’s ambient Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two).
• Producer Ricky Reed’s guest-heavy debut album The Room.
• Devendra Banhart’s Vast Ovoid EP.
• Lupe Fiasco and Kaelin Ellis’ HOUSE EP.
• (Potentially) Kanye West’s DONDA.