Ox. Sanchez: Anxiety Dreams
(Vigorous Blinx Records)
Rhode Island’s Ox. Sanchez releases a homemade debut album full of electronic experimentation and synth-pop skills. Andy Brown gives Anxiety Dreams a listen for Louder Than War.
How productive have you been over lockdown? In those twilight hours between work and sleep I’ve managed to start and abandon a tonne of Netflix series, go on a lot of walks and eat an obscene amount of chocolate. I didn’t get round to writing a COVID-inspired indie-rock opera or some epic dystopian novel. I didn’t even learn to bake a decent banana bread. Ox. Sanchez, on the other hand, has been pretty busy. The suitably-titled Anxiety Dreams was recorded between March 2020 and February this year in Providence, Rhode Island.
A distinctly DIY affair, Anxiety Dreams was written, produced, recorded and mixed by Sierra Sanchez (they/ them) in their very own bedroom studio. This isn’t some lo-fi, ramshackle record though: every track is layered with bubbling beats and sublime synth soundscapes. The tracks utilise field recordings taken while Sanchez was travelling and every instrument you hear is electronic. The songs explore anxiety and loneliness as well as Sanchez’s identity as a queer, mixed-race, non-binary musician and visual artist. I found this hidden gem of an album via Dailen Williams aka Caloric, another Providence-based dance-pop innovator. There’s clearly something in the water over there as both artists are wholly worthy of your time.
Always Early may be one of the catchiest earworms you’ll hear all year and acts as the ideal ice breaker for the album. Irresistibly addictive beats blend with Sanchez’s effortlessly cool vocal; “We want to be the ones who write the new standards/ The kind of sound that makes the ghost in my chest, rise and fall”. An album of tracks like this would have been great yet Anxiety Dreams refuses to rest on its laurels; getting progressively more experimental and wonderfully unpredictable as it goes on.
Born of isolation, the album fuses the shared anxiety we’ve all felt over the last 12 or so months with a genuine sense of experimentation and sonic adventure. In The Wall’d Place finds Ox. Sanchez withdrawing from the world with ticking clocks, beats and soaring vocals, “I just want to go back inside/ back inside/back inside/ to the wall’d place”. The title track mimics the ebbs-and-flow of an anxious mind and elevated heart rate with some rather beautiful electronic textures. The lyrics reflecting an all too familiar inner dialogue for anyone that’s experienced the nagging persistence of anxiety.
Dark Summer takes a more subdued and melancholic approach, the sonic equivalent of staring out of the windows on a rainy afternoon and pining for better days. Child embraces Sanchez’s most experimental impulses; a dark, haunting and discombobulating sound collage. There’s real depth to be explored with the album, each track full of beguiling sonic fragments and detail. The brief drone of To Expect Nothing leads into the echoing, otherworldly electro-pop instrumental Paper Tiger. The track somehow has me thinking of Jessy Lanza and Portishead.
You need to listen to the album on headphones to really appreciate everything that’s going on here. The immersive Echo Out Five Years bounces through my cranium with a beautifully woven soundscape of sonic invention and emotional vulnerability. “I never thought I’d be so lonely” intones Sanchez, “don’t think I want to paint the dead no more”. I can hear that same spirit of invention that drives acts like Animal Collective. 8-Bit Suburbia brings proceedings to a close with a superb slice of retro-futuristic electronica that unravels like a wildly oscillating carousel.
Anxiety Dreams is an electro-pop album full of genuine heart and soul, Sanchez pouring a year’s worth of worry into each unexpected twist and turn. Cinematic cool combined with endless inventiveness and endearing eccentricities. 35 minutes of vibrant electro-pop and restless creativity. From a bedroom in Rhode Island straight to your headphones, Ox. Sanchez has created a real work of art from a year’s worth of chaos and uncertainty. Anxiety Dreams feels like a cult classic in the making.
All words by Andy Brown. You can visit his author profile and read more of his reviews for Louder Than War here.