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Devi: Of Matter And Spirit (Houndstooth)

Booth’s Houndstooth label has consistently delivered on the label’s
mission to provide an outlet for interesting new voices operating
usually outside of more expected dance music paradigms, and Aisha
Devi’s album does just that in flying colors. Her unusual mix of
sounds and styles distinctly feels other, never quite honoring
expectations on any particular track and often shifting dynamics and
timbres dramatically from one track to the next. And yet Of Matter
And Spirit
feels so cohesive and solid as one larger idea that this
only serves to strengthen it as an accomplished body of work. Anyone
who heard her Conscious Cunt EP that surfaced earlier in 2015 will
find all three of those tracks included here, but they are each
welcome as far as I’m concerned. “Kim & the Wheel of Life” is
the easy standout of the bunch, centered in the track list and the
longest one by a good lead. It’s perhaps the most effective fusion of
Devi’s ideas and reference points, with synth arps that  recall
vintage soundtracks (John Carpenter’s ongoing ubiquity continues),
scattered kicks and snares that feel equally tied to IDM and
post-dubstep beatmaking, and Devi’s own vocalizing that honors her
Nepalese and Tibetan roots.

Ultimately it’s the presence of Devi’s
voice and cultural background that make these tracks most
interesting, but that’s not to tokenize those elements, either.
Instead, rather than simply including these vocals and the Phrygian
scale as obvious nods, Devi draws on her extensive practice of
meditation and infuses her voice and sounds with a reverence that
more often than not feels truly inspired. So this is not necessarily
spiritual music in the sense that it’s inspirational or directive,
but instead is spiritual on a more visceral, primal, and intimate
level as it concerns Devi herself. While it’s impossible to divorce
any of this from the music itself — nor do I want to — the music
is a hearty complement that is strong and unique. Her rhythms are
often coarse and somewhat industrial in sound, with numerous effects applied
to her vocals and synths, lending it a big, spacious sense of
atmosphere even as her vocals are often simultaneously claustrophobic
and closed in as much as they are big and looming. For those reasons
I’m inclined to draw a comparison to Gazelle Twin, whose latest album
Unflesh explores some similar tactics to a rather different end mood.

But Devi’s voice takes on many shapes and sounds here; on “Mazdâ”
it’s pitch-shifted to a little murmur, and on interlude “Aurat
(Tool)” she’s vocoded into a uniform robotic drone. Both are a
sharp contrast to the creepy alien vocal of “O.M.A.” or the more
overtly Eastern vocalizing of “Initiation to an Illusion,” and
this variety is part of the album’s rousing success. Ultimately, it’s
the sum of its many parts that makes Of Matter And Spirit so exciting
to my ears, showcasing a truly original new voice in electronic

Buy it: Bandcamp | Bleep | Boomkat | iTunes | Amazon