On some level, we wish for albums to converge on a unifying theme, idea, or mood. Not all albums should be “concept albums”. But when it comes to evaluating and appreciating, most listeners instinctively ask if the tracks hang together as a coherent whole. Occasionally, a rare album like Sabiwa’s DaBa shakes those instincts. The album is consistently accomplished and compelling. But instead of a coherent whole, it is a restless, beautiful mess, pulling us in many directions at once.
The cover of the album shows Sabiwa sitting sedately, against a plain background, a smartphone covering her eyes. The screen points outwards, displaying a hyper-realist flower to the world. Similar images appear in the video and artwork to her non-album single, Display-Me (2018). Some of us may already be desperate to extrapolate a unifying concept. Technology obscures our perception of the world? The face behind the screen is not the one we choose to show? DaBa may affirm such platitudes, but it also transcends them.
Across the first two tracks, the chimes of a child’s music box accompany a faltering voice of insightful naivety. “There is nothing real”, Sabiwa repeats. And revisiting the first steps into epistemology, “We’ve never seen the same blue”. As the music box segues into lo-fi glitch-hop, the voice matures rapidly, accusing the listener: “Why do you leave your fake truths on the table?”; “What did you do to stop their misery?”. As if this shift wasn’t disorientating enough, the album proceeds to rapidly shuffle through other styles and modes of address.
Towards the end of the album, there is a sustained venture into hip-hop. “My Doom Lady” is dominated by a rap vocal, chopped, looped, and reconstituted in a style reminiscent of Prefuse 73’s Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives (2001). The album’s closer (and title track) follows this up, with an unexpected boom bap segment. But this is no more a hip-hop record than it is an industrial, post-techno, or avant-garde one. Opposing styles are gelled effortlessly together, as Sabiwa moves from menacingly understated 2-step percussion (“Desert Walker”), to frantic IDM sequences, breaking free of time signatures (“Kill Your Favourite Toy”); or from a rapid-fire gabber moment (“Enigma”) to an ambient interlude (“Crab People”).
The result is a fluid collage of an album, which triumphantly adheres to its programme of heady eclecticism. Readers of A Closer Listen should expect nothing less. Sabiwa’s first album made our 2018 “Top Ten Electronic” list and was similarly free-roaming. However, the emulsifier of that album was Sabiwa’s intermittent vocal appearances. On her new release, the faltering “Sailor Girl” of the opening track is quickly drowned out by a cacophony of other vocal sounds. These are often distorted or non-verbal: the maniacal sounds of animals howling, or of malfunctioning Furbies. Polyvocal incoherence is at the heart of the album, as well as stylistic polyphony. This is an album which not only ponders the nature of reality, but which crushes distinct sonic realities wonderfully together, even in the space of a single track. (Samuel Rogers)