Pan Daijing ~ Lack 惊蛰

Pan Daijing does not sound like anyone else.  This is a rare accomplishment, nearly unheard of for a debut LP.  Even her label (in an unusual confluence, PAN) avoids namedropping, despite the fact that such comparisons have become de rigueur.

The sonic originality of Lack 惊蛰 can be explained by understanding its origins.  The artist is best known as a live improvisationalist, famous for engaging attendees in highly personal ways.  Of her debut LP she writes, “When I was finalising this album, they didn’t feel like tracks to me anymore, but more like a psychoanalytical process.  I saw myself being this absurd, mad person ‘acting’ out the sounds.”  And act out she does, from sighing to wordless operatic singing.

Without the context of artist comparison, we’re free to exhume the music on the basis of the performer alone.  These pieces don’t seem to be written for others ~ and certainly not for mass audiences.  Instead they seem like utterances from the soul, strange sonic outbursts, less like a diary than explosions of paint on a canvas.  She’s not trying to impress us; she’s trying to communicate without the use of a translator.  Public track Plate of Order is the most accessible piece here, but it’s far from mainstream.  Breathy backgrounds are hammered down by industrial crunch; low pitch-shifted vocals alternate with wordless, soaring song.  One might call this a battle between the carnal and the spiritual, except in this case they seem to have come to a comfortable detente.  In contrast, “Practice of Hygiene” is the least bearable track, because the line between pain and pleasure is so badly blurred.  It’s difficult not to squirm as her voice devolves from spoken word to groan to onomatopoeia to clutched breath, accompanied by atonal chords and rusty swings.

Overture “Phenomenon” is more operatic, exposing the artist’s vocal range.  Pan Daijing seems to be telling listeners that she knows how to be beautiful, so that when things turn ugly she can claim ownership as well.  The impact of the full album is like that of a violently scratched photograph placed on display ~ no shame, no excuse, no explanation.  The cover is a simultaneous offering of vulnerability (the exposed neck) and power (red as violence, passion, confrontation).  This dual presentation is extended in the press photos.  One sets an upturned wrist against a challenging stare, while another exudes confidence via a blood-stained scrap of clothing.  The dark center of the album, “Act of the Empress”, offers unapologetic bass, beats and distortion, as if claiming the empress’ right to dispose of her enemies.  This brand of regent is dangerous; during the singular drum beats of “Come to Sit, Come to Refuse, Come to Surround”, one imagines her ascending her throne, and over the feedback drones of “Eat”, declaring war.

The irony of the title is that the artist seems to lack for nothing.  What she feels, she states.  What she wants, she takes.  Some tracks seem to bleed anger (“A Situation of Meat”), but she remains in control at all times, despite the fact that she seems to be splaying her soul.  Her only need seems to be for self-expression.  As she makes herself vulnerable, she becomes powerful; by owning her contradictions, she becomes whole.  (Richard Allen)

Release date:  28 July

Available here

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