Electronica’s other Twin returns with a devastating second album of scary tunes and even scarier lyrics
In Jack Ketchum’s novel ‘Ladies Night’, a cherry-smelling liquid spilt from an overturned truck infects New York’s women, turning them into homicidal maniacs who literally tear men apart. The males, having worked out what’s going on, defend themselves pitilessly until daybreak. And that’s it. End of book.
Ever the singular novelist, Ketchum describes the events of the night in forensic detail, but leaves the central concept unexplored. We never discover the origin of the cherry smell and we never know why it only effects women. Ketchum’s horror is stripped back and bare, the over-reaching tension and anxiety forced to lurk and slither beneath the surface.
Brighton’s Gazelle Twin takes much the same aesthetic approach on this, her second album, and in many ways channels a similar brand of gender rage. If there is a theme here, then it is blighted flesh – specifically blighted female flesh – with ruminations on blood, childbirth and medicine joining a cover image of the Twin (aka Elizabeth Berholz) as an urbanised version of a ‘Hellraiser’ cenobite – or perhaps one of Ketchum’s marauding infectees – the skin peeling away from her face.
The music, meanwhile, is bare-bones, lo-fi and stark, abandoning the melodic electronica of Bernholz’s debut, ‘The Entire City’, in favour of a droning, industrial-edged techno sound. Vocally, she casts aside the cloying squeals beloved of contemporaries such The Knife, Zola Jesus and Grimes, and for the most part pitches herself way, way down. The result is not just a better album – better than her first album and better than those of her peers – it’s an astonishing one.
It starts with the titular ‘Unflesh’, on which the kind of repeated industrial motif you’d expect of Sandwell District or Perc chugs behind cheerleading chants, choral singing and Berholz intoning, “It’s coming at me” with an almost feral intensity. Next up, ‘GUTS’, with its flutey noises, may well be the most Knife fan-friendly track on the album, yet it’s here that Berholz chooses to unleash one of her most unsettling vocals, sounding positively nightmarish.
‘Anti Body’, the recent single, steals its opening percussion from ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ soundtrack and employs a jackhammer beat behind Berholz’s distorted whispering. Later, she drops the vocal tricks to deliver a devastating lullaby to a miscarried baby on ‘Premonition’ (“My arms can’t lift you up to kiss you”). But on ‘Belly Of The Beast’ she’s back at full snarl mode for a highlight track that, with its checkout beeps and thumping kick-drums, somehow combines a sense of existential, supermarket-related dread with one of the album’s most danceable moments.
‘Unflesh’ is not an especially varied set. Or, to put it another way, its fingerprints take time to appear. Nor is it an easy listen. Indeed, the more the lyrics come into focus, the more unsettling it becomes. But these are reasons for celebration, because it’s a brilliant album, one that finds Gazelle Twin leaping way ahead of the pack. Live with it, give it time, and you will almost certainly grow to love it.