Track By Track: Group Rhoda – Passing Shades
It’s no secret that we love Dark Entries here at Ransom Note. From their base in San Francisco, label boss Josh Cheon has built a space for both contemporary and forgotten DIY sounds to coexist in harmony. Since their beginnings in 2009, he’s spread the gospel on underground electronic and post-punk sounds from the 70s, 80s and 90s, as well as artists who draw inspiration from these sounds now.
Group Rhoda is one such artist. The solo project of Oakland-based artist Mara Barenbaum, she made her debut on the label under this moniker in 2017 with Wilderness, her third full length release. Now she returns for her sophomore label LP Passing Shades which examines the metaphysics of loss and the transitory nature of the material world, not through melancholic sonics but cosmic atmospheres, four-to-the-floor rhythms and synth excursions laced with Mara’s striking vocals.
She draws inspiration and influence from many different places and spaces: from Margarett Atwood and Patrick Cowley to the loss of her best friend and cat Texas and the problematic impact of social media and hyperconsumerism. Following the release, we invited her to dive deeper into the album, guiding us through the origins of each track…
Flow was designed to have sonic elements that drift out of its framework. Like pathways of water it moves in ways that are not easy to predict. As it progresses, the form folds in on itself. Although the structure has a consistent upward arpeggio, I think the piece has a sinking feeling that bores into the ground. Conceptually it was inspired by my first experiences with internal energetic principals in martial arts. There are many barely perceptible details where power can be gathered and transferred, yielding deep expressions of yin energy.
The Beauty’s in the Waste
This title was prompted by a comment made by a friend after relaying details of a job I had lighting ice sculptures. The testament merged with my criticisms towards hyperconsumerism along with the ballooning problematic effects of social media’s influence. It’s a cynical and fairly topical exploration on wastefulness. Be it food, materials, electronics, or the time we waste projecting our identities; or making assumptions about topics we know so little about. If that were not enough, we effectively advertise for companies without giving it much thought. Waste not want not. As my husband says, “If there were a growing luddite movement, how would we know about it?”
Alibi touches on the idea of account as a story, potentially malleable by perception and intent. Stories need not be based on fact and may lean on a crafted narrative in order to manipulate or survive. I took a more ballistic approach with the percussion as a means of creating tension and dispersion. The song moves into a more introspective wormhole of a middle section and bookended by a message about how the sharp details of narrative can become hazier throughout the passage of time.
Mute came about after a great social and community loss. I was feeling like I had nothing valuable say in the wake of trauma. After about a year, I returned to some musical ideas. I went for something without my voice and something a bit more primitive. Perhaps there is comfort in certain natural aspects that keep their rhythms even when our own become so disrupted. Within the piece, I wanted to feel the breeze and night sounds softly melt into the sonic field. Key chords come in that feel like an old record in a distant setting. Birds come and go as accents, beasts let out their mournful cries, sounds intermingle in a daze as there remains the constant that we are still in the presence of life.
I later came up with the idea to give Mute a poem that can be read with or without the piece. The poem itself focuses on an exploration of feminine statues along a historical landscape, eroded by time. The poem moves into a more suggestive framing of a creation/destruction myth.
Twin Studies is motivated by my love for activated forms of dance music. The lyrics for this piece were initially prompted from a collection of jargon I’ve transcribed while listening to passerbys talk to (seemingly) no one. I have always been curious about liminal states, and the occasionally poignant messages or poetry that can come across. I wanted this piece to contain a dancefloor beat yet still feel light and evoke movement through different parts of the body and mind.
This track playfully marches along. Sonic threads weave their way in between verses. I drew inspiration from the song “Burn Brighter Flame” by Patrick Cowley and Jorge Socarras. It’s a gay love song and although I cannot share that lived experience, it’s a very beautiful and devotional song. It’s an expression of love at a core level which contains a power that cuts through all else. I feel like I just want to write about the Cowley song.
I’m a huge Margaret Atwood fan. The MaddAddam trilogy is a must for anyone who likes feminist scifi/ speculative fiction. It’s a dark endgame story, with vast depth and beauty. God’s Gardeners are a community of survivors dedicated to preserving what remains of the natural world. The lyrics for this piece are taken from their hymn book. The piece itself is an electronic hymn, with echoes and layered voices. It’s tone is somber and lush. Birds again make their impression on the sonic canopy. Airy elements balance against the gloomier/doomier elements?
This was a fairly intuitive piece that I began after losing my best pal – a cat named Texas. I wanted to give her a loving tribute. I fell apart nearly every time I worked and still do when I listen. It’s quite embarrassing. I decided to process my voice, go for something spacious. The percussion marks phrasing instead of keeping time. I felt it was the right time to go off the grid and work without lines and boxes. I wanted to feel more through the sounds than let the visually dominant aspect of editing take too much. Now that it’s out of my hands, it exists as a requiem for all beloved pets.
The lyrics allude to the maze or the tunnel. The unwinding through difficulty and uncertainty. It scales back to simplicity and what is intrinsic for survival, stripping away the conditioning of “human progress.” It’s the first time I opened up to working with a live drummer as I had imagined some softer brush work to add to the motion of the percussion. The tone is subdued and reflective.