Released October 1st 2021
AJA returns with her second album of uncompromising electronic experimentalism, punishing techno and industrial noise. Andy Brown shares his thoughts on Slug for Louder Than War.
It would be fair to say that the music of experimental multimedia artist Aja Ireland aka AJA is not for the faint of heart. The screeching hellscape that bursts through the speakers when you press play on her new album gives you some idea of what you’re getting yourself into. The track in question, Flesh Tactic, is a glitchy and temperamental blast of discombobulating noise. It sounds like a thousand cassette players unravelling (and quite possibly exploding) as a string quartet plays the theme from an unreleased horror film in the adjacent room.
I first became aware of AJA’s work via a night in the small Yorkshire market town of Shipley called The Golden Cabinet. A regular night with specially curated bills that celebrated all things experimental, noisy and downright weird. Highlights were frequent and included everyone from Sly & The Family Drone to Teeth Of The Sea and EP/64. The night AJA performed was particularly memorable. Appearing like an irritable tiger from behind some gigantic shower curtain, AJA immersed the tiny venue in a bombardment of animalistic screams and cathartic techno. Dragging her microphone lead through the crowd and writhing on the floor as we stood hypnotised. Slug seeks to create a similarly intense experience.
The first half of the album proves to be particularly relentless. The brilliant Grime serves up heavily distorted beats and mangled synths that frantically leap between the left and right channels of my headphones. A bludgeoning slab of noise propelled by abrasive electro-industrial rhythms. Skittish lives up to its title with an utterly bonkers blast of unfiltered chaos. It’s only 2 minutes long yet I’m fairly certain it would induce something of a panic attack if I heard it unexpectedly on shuffle. The playful anarchy of the title track delivers frantic, high-energy rave with joy and creativity at its core. Listen to this on a treadmill and you’ll run the risk of setting your trainers on fire.
*** video contains strobe lighting ***
It’s at this point that the album shifts gear and we’re greeted by the sombre and appropriately titled, Grief Hole. There are no traditional vocals on the album yet when AJA’s voice does appear it’s utilised as another instrument. The track is a haunting wordless lament comprised of AJA’s ghostly harmonies and subdued synths. The energy of the previous tracks has been replaced by a spectral longing. The album has been described by AJA as detailing a journey of recovery and no journey is without its highs and lows. Grief Hole is a particularly captivating glimpse into the flipside of AJA’s high energy output.
Ode To Sophie turns the volume back up with a heart-pounding beat, violet bursts of noise, whispers and distressed howls. The track is dedicated to the much-loved hyperpop musician, record producer and DJ Sophie Xeon aka Sophie who tragically died in January. The track actually takes samples from a pack created by the late, idiosyncratic pop star. You can hear the creative connectivity between the two artists: a shared desire to push limits and blur boundaries. Like Sophie, every aspect of AJA’s creative output is given thought. From the distinctive artwork to the performance-based live shows, Aja Ireland is fully immersed in her art.
The dark, fractured drone of The Thinning takes its inspiration from the ritual protection marks carved into the caves at Creswell Crags. The marks were intended to protect the locals from disease, death and evil. It’s a subtly powerful way to bring this consistently surprising journey to an end. Slug is an album that many will no doubt find a tad too off-kilter and perhaps even unlistenable yet therein lies the joy. It’s the sound of an artist working without constraint and a piece of work that can’t help but elicit a strong response. I flit between excitement, confusion and pure admiration.
It’s far from easy listening yet Slug retains a playfulness and fluidity that keeps me coming back for more. If you make it through your first listen you may find yourself similarly hooked on this unique and outlandish oddity.
All words by Andy Brown. You can visit his author profile and read more of his reviews for Louder Than War here.