Review: Octo Octa – Where Are We Going?
Octo Octa uses this full length to pick at and to gently sidle up to the genre boundaries of house music. Carefully building across the album the transgender New York artist stays resolutely within the limits of four to the floor through nine tracks. Where Are We Going? craftily works within these limitations with a tight focus that engenders an instant familiarity with the tracks. Uncomplicated and inviting from the get go the fourth Octo Octa album is a breath of fresh air that beckons the listener to step into the artist’s personal space.
Whether it is the artist’s well-documented personal journey or previous label associations there has been an ever present air of outsider about Octo Octa. Spikey early house productions with the often unfairly vilified 100% Silk and anxiety over performance saw the artist remain a peripheral figure to many.
One listen through to Where Are We Going? and you get the feeling that Maya Bouldry-Morrison is not going to waste any connection she could possibly make with a newly receptive audience. Add this to now working with San Francisco queer party crew turned label Honey Soundsytem, the Brooklyn based artists appears to be enjoying having found a supportive new family.
Eponymous opener Where Are We Going Pt1? is warm and inviting. Arpeggiated synths present in her early work are reborn less spikey, more polished and assured, while still charged with nervous energy. There is immediately leanness and economy in the beats, which creates the space for the artist’s ideas to seep through.
Fleeting Moments of Freedom (Woo), while being a strutting, confidently executed club weapon does seem to be sniping at the pomposity of the dance floor experience whilst simultaneously celebrating the releases it can present. There is a tangible duplicity here and at work throughout the album exploring contrasts between present and past, joy and sadness, optimism and regret.
Shot through with orgasmic wails of 90s divas juxtaposed with a hymn like refrain, No More Pain (Promises To A Younger Self) feels like a voyeuristic view on an unknown form of communion experienced in a teenage bedroom. Hinting at discovering the prevailing forces operating below the surface of a time of naivety, it asks how many times have you wished that you knew what you know now fifteen years ago?
Move On (Let Go) (De-stress mix) is a welcome rough shod track and shows again the fluidity of within the LP as pushes and pulls at the various moods and textures house music can allow. The song titles are deliberately autobiographical and as revealing as they are ditsy and charming.
The last three tracks of the album really draw the set together. Preparation Rituals is a soaring, tightly packed peak time dive into emotional dance floor fare. Haunting keys and stabbing synths gently but purposefully unravel the heart of the song. There is just the right amount of drama and again a leanness that makes full use of every beat in its 8 minutes.
Adrift is a dark, introspective and powerful beast, while Where Are We Going Pt 2 is the epic sibling of the album opener. Of the repeated mantra of ‘do you feel better’, Bouldry-Morrison says; “It was the question every single person asked me after coming out as transgender. Overall I do, but no, I don’t feel better at every moment, which is why the track slips out with a dour bass drone in addition to a beautiful pad. These days, both emotions are ever-present for me.”
This is clearly a highly personal LP but is anything but overbearing. it is more about suggestion than imposition. Where Are We Going? eschews any outright comment on the current debate on equality in the dance scene. Although this is a necessary argument it more often than not boils over and serves to tie people in knots rather than achieving anything other than isolating individuals.
Thankfully music itself can retreat to another place and duck the sequential outrage that comes from the unnecessary divisions which these issues create and hopefully unite everyone to see past their own perceptions and into another person’s narrative without judgement.