Loraine James : Gentle Confrontation

tom morgan
Loraine James Gentle Confrontation review

I’m sure I’m not alone in starting to heavily question my relationship to digital technology and culture. Our world is run on opaque platforms and shady algorithms, making existence feel increasingly exhausting and unknowable. Internet native music does a fun but similarly exhausting job of reflecting this headspace, leaping between styles and tones like opening and closing an endless array of tabs. It all too frequently sacrifices honest emotion—ironic mania in place of raw feeling.

In its fractured construction and generic fluidity, Loraine James‘ music undoubtedly the work of a digital native, but builds its dense sonic palette on the intricate, glitchy IDM popularized by the likes of Aphex Twin and Autechre. The 27-year-old’s work blows the tonal restrictions of these influences wide open by infusing it with sounds such as drill and garage, and eschewing any emotional austerity in place of nakedly open emoting. To compare it with an artist like 100 Gecs, they represent the internet at its most archly postmodern; James is metamodern—deconstructive form imbued with sincere feeling.

Her fifth album under her own name (she also put out a fantastic record last year under the name Whatever The Weather) Gentle Confrontation is the electronica prodigy’s most sprawling release yet. On a technical level, these 16 tracks are thrilling exercises in expressive freedom and refusal to acknowledge the boundaries of familiar structuring or arrangement. Tracks appear linear, like the cold ghettotech of “Try For Me,” before dissolving into a fog of voices and ethereal synths. This viscous layer of melancholic dreaminess hovers over the whole record, stunning the unpredictable UK bass of “Déjà Vu” or aggressive glitches of “While They Were Singing” into a sort of lovesick stupor.

Though backed by a litany of voices, the best of them being George Riley’s seductive turn on the textured trip-hop cut “Speechless,” it’s James’ own vocals that make for Gentle Confrontation’s most fascinating and honest moments. Her distinct voice shifts between gentle and lilting to dry and confessional. Her words are sometimes cryptic (see the dreamy layers of “nothing we can do/what I put you through” on “Disjointed (Feeling Like A Kid Again)”) as well as disarmingly diaristic. On “Cards With The Grandparents” she worries that her grandparents think “she’s forgotten” about them, while on “2003” she reveals that “when I was seven/my dad went to heaven – possibly.” These insights make for a fascinating juxtaposition with the complex IDM production, whilst underscoring its emotional acuity.

James has often discussed her love of emo and math rock, which she references here on the polyrhythmic delight “One Way Ticket To The Midwest (Emo)”. Her ability to take this genre, as well as IDM (both long seen as the preserve of nerdy white men) and subvert and expand upon them from a queer, POC perspective is a fascinating and unique combination. For all of us who are starting to feel jaded from living in a cacophonously-digitized world, James’ electronica offers a reminder that it also has the potential to be an open-minded, soulful and wondrous place.

Label: Hyperdub

Year: 2023

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