You couldn’t accuse Claire Rousay or More Eaze of being lazy. An Afternoon Whine, their first proper collaboration, is the third release of 2021 for each of them independently with a full five releases counting this one between the two since the start of the year, releases that all hovered around the half-hour mark save for Rousay’s career retrospective A Collection which topped just over two full hours. That is, to be frank, a hell of a lot of music. But despite this intense rapidity between the two, none of these releases feels scattershot or haphazard, nor does An Afternoon Whine. These are works produced at the high-speed clip of classic electronic composers and DJs, digital Bob Pollards, getting to the gut of the song idea and letting a sketch stay hazy so long as it captures the ineffable essence that demands chronicle. These are sets that live and breathe together, half-hour suites exploring a set of sometimes abstract emotional and experiential space, as opposed to aimless unedited jams.
In the case of An Afternoon Whine, the focus is on diaristic intimacy rendered in chiaroscuro. These are the days of our late 20s into our 30s, emails and smartphones and clinking glasses and half-heard conversations all hovering beneath the gentle smearing caused by casual drinking and the refined palette for drugs of dawning full adulthood. The duo navigate these spaces with the artful ambiguity more closely associated with literary novels than song; there is no melodramatic turn of phrase here, no wild thrust into the seething bleeding heart of experience. Instead, there are muted but meaningful gestures, the true intimacy of the smallness of things which contains the largeness of hearts and histories and imaginations. Earlier works from 2021 by the pair, both solo and in other collaborative arrangements, explored these dramatic interpersonal and psychological spaces a bit more directly. This seems to have cleared the table as it were for the quiet and mature unvarnished humanity of An Afternoon Whine. This is not a document of sex and turmoil like most songs. This is the banal but more intensely human reality of our daily lives.
The mode is one largely of ambiance but punched up in smart patches by glimmers of melody, an autotuned post-hip-hop vocal pattern here, a strummed guitar there. Most of the soundfield are murmurations of electronics, snatches of what sound like phone calls or field recordings, or the gentle interposition of a drone. The effect is one of distance, blurring, smearing; these are deliberately not explicit and defined concrete discussions or human experiences but instead the gentle unfocused gesture of them, describing the shape in wisps rather than tight clean lines. But this mode is also what lets these pieces feel more universal in their way, at least of contemporary life of a certain age group. There is a directness and humanity exposed in this form that can’t be captured in the inherent artificiality of song. Until very nearly the end of the record, there is no cheap ploy to intensify or draw out an emotion that may otherwise only be a lingering valence in our otherwise mundane lives. Things simply are what they are without comment, brought to attention the way great photography of the common world makes us witness the world around us in a manner beyond narcissistic blinkered doldrum or the equally childish mythology and intensity of, say, emo, which takes street signs and blurry lights as dramatic backdrops to the roiling of hearts.
So it is shocking then when the penultimate track the guitar and Auto-tuned vocals coalesce into what approximates a song. A melody, a chord progression, a certain yearning to the voice, like an alt-rock ballad penned in the wake of the intense earnestness of Smashing Pumpkins’ early work. But the precise vocals are kept distant, muffled by the effect; it is a shadow of a song, a tooth nearly but not quite erupted, which dissolves in the final track to more abstract exploration of a guitar, like being left in a room by a musician mid-process. It seems to form an album-length narrative of life with a musician, witnessing the material reality of their days as well as the practicalities of practice and the intermittent presence of song. But even this attempt at a more concrete narrative is an approximation. All that remains, truly, is that human intimacy.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.