Like Anika Henderson’s previous project under the Anika moniker, Exploded View is the product of a chance encounter. Her first stroke of fortune came in the form of an opportunity to audition as a vocalist for Geoff Barrow’s new band, without prior knowledge of who she was actually auditioning for.
Yet what was initially intended as Barrow’s next undertaking became a vehicle for Anika’s own work. Although her self-titled debut primarily reinterpreted existing material - Yoko Ono, The Kinks, Bob Dylan and girl group pop – Anika, Barrow and co exercised a permissive license, filtering these covers through a lens which was greyscale yet finely lysergic, a lean dub-engineered readjustment of cult 60s singles that drew Broadcast, ESG and Keith Hudson versions into a compelling commonality. Everything felt heavier, colder and more dispersed in their vision, with Anika’s voice providing an aloof Germanic tone which was in some instances estranged in echo (‘Officer, Officer’), in others dissentious (‘No One’s There’) and in finer moments affectingly anguished (‘I Go To Sleep’) On Exploded View there’s a discernible sense of logical progression from these origins, which may not come as a surprise. The rest of the band – comprised of Martin Thulin, Hugo Quezada and Amon Melgarejo – were originally assembled for the purposes of performing Anika’s songs live, on a tour of Mexico in 2014.
Yet their compatibility led to more than a few live performances. Responding to the chemistry that had supposedly been unlidded the band took to the studio and produced a record drawn from improvisatory energy. The results contain first take cuts that are less mired in mixing desk murk, and more upfront and unveiled; an austere, serrated strain of agit-psychedelia that sees Anika emerge as a confrontational lyricist and adroit vocalist, capable of switching her register from deadpan reproach to vulnerable introspection with a disarming ease. There’s a collective cohesion to what Thulin, Quezada and Melgarejo stir up around her too, making for a record that is at times discretely anthemic.
‘Orlando’, for one, takes its title and inspiration from the Virginia Woolf novel of the same name yet took on a different significance in the wake of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Addressing this unanticipated, tragic connection the band divulged that the ‘the song is a celebration of life's simple pleasures; of union in our differences’. It’s fitting then that the track trades in a lenient form of elegiac leftfield disco, as if representing a bittersweet but hopeful requiem. Comprised of melodious bass, raw drums and crystalline synth, it’s a stirring salute to nonconformity with some of the most poetic lyrics Anika has penned to date: ‘When I wake/beneath the egg yolk sun/and reflect on the days gone/I'd like to think, believe, it was worth it/that it was for someone’.
It makes for a stark contrast with ‘No More Parties In The Attic’, an unremittingly dystopic statement that envisages the decimation of a liberated community; a vision of a free rave being brutally curtailed. Unfortunately, it’s message is less a cautionary tale from an imagined future then a powerfully cogent commentary in a climate where indiscriminate market forces and myopic conservatism make club closures an all too regular occurrence. A dark, allegorical reflection on the predicaments facing DIY culture.
In these instances, and at other moments, especially on ‘One Too Many’ and ‘Killjoy’, there’s an overriding aura of loss and melancholy, a feeling that the party’s over and only the desperate and dissolute remain. But as vividly attested to in Anika’s lyrics, it’s at this point of adversity that some uncomfortable truths can be confronted. ‘One Too Many’ narrates a story of self-destruction and crumbling masculinity, with the languid afterglow of clouded synth knells hanging in the air like delicate, self-contained emittances of failing light. It’s a song of bleak but tender solemnity that captures beauty even in the midst of bearing witness to a self-inflicted brush with ruin. ‘Killjoy’ comes from a similar place, a leaden dirge that replaces pity with denunciation.
At this point you’d be forgiven for thinking that the picture presented on EV is an intensely dismal one. Yet within forlorn atmospherics there are graceful touches, not least on ‘Stand Your Ground’, a sparse torch song for profound life choice uncertainties. There’s more extreme shifts too. On ‘Disco Glove’ a charged squall of punk velocity provides another source of variation, one that also adds a modicum of sordid black humour into an often sincere and momentous mix.
But even with these displays of range EV doesn’t stray too far from an assured template of plush echo chamber dimensions, bristling, tensile dissonance and mirage-like distortions that without these divergences already feels eclectic in itself. As well as a work of diverse aural integration it’s a record that holds a nuanced grasp of personal and political contentions. It’s consciously sceptical but at its core resistant and defiant, even when in the grip of some quite grim reflections on contemporary circumstances. ‘Lost Illusions’, for instance, rails and purrs, an overture on the verge of an explosive denouement, and when Anika declares in a cutting vacancy to ‘sell your clothes and sell your soul’, the air is not one of overstatement, of superficial contrarian rhetoric, but of unobtrusive, incisive sardonicism. A perceptive jolt to complacency that feels more cathartic than condemnatory. ‘Lark Descending’ is more severe in the nature of what it articulates, a deceptively serene clarion call that honours fateful self-sacrifice whilst upbraiding the excessive indulgency of the internet era, as well as the questionable sense of active moral conviction that such an era often engenders: ‘Mothers weep in misery at sons lost in the field/You sit and play your games and jerk off at the screen/But do we really know what it’s like to pull the trigger?/To see your fallen friends…’
It’s the nature of this contemplative but fiercely oppositional narration that’s a key ingredient in the record’s appeal. In acknowledging individual flaws as well as social dysfunction, the lyrics strike an honest balance that eschews righteous lecturing for an unassuming but outspoken stream of elevated lyrical critique. And in Thulin, Quezada and Melgarejo Anika has found valuable collaborators for such a form of expression. After interpreting other voices for a prolonged inceptive period, EV has enabled Anika to find her own.
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