As the human experience grows increasingly entangled with technology, the idea of “sensory saturation” has gone from a minor annoyance to an everyday fact of life. Music—particularly sample-based music—reflects this; with the advent of mashups and memes, all media has become fair game for recycling and re-use, a process that, at its worst, flattens all of its source sounds, images, and ideas into an endless barrage of kitsch.
On the surface, it would be easy to mistake Chicago-based electronic producer/multi-instrumentalist Angel Marcloid for just another mashup artist. On Drip Mental, her second album under the pseudonym Fire-Toolz, Marcloid combines blood-curdling black metal howls with the kind of bubblegum synth-pop that used to soundtrack VHS workout videos in the ’80s. Yes, Marcloid plays up the contrast between those two elements for maximum absurdity, but Drip Mental is more than just an orgy of stimulation.
Campy and disturbing at the same time, the album illuminates, challenges, and ultimately makes art out of our relationship with media. The samples on Drip Mental bob and weave in the music like loose space junk—a reverb-drenched smooth-jazz saxophone figure, courtesy of Richard Elliott, pings against an iconic riff by math metal outfit The Dillinger Escape Plan; a punchline delivered by cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants brushes shoulders with a spooky voice whispering “Look behind you,” a sample from a Halloween item she saw at a big box store.
Drip Mental creates an almost dementia-like effect by wrenching its various samples free from any context. Marcloid has been releasing music for years under a host of monikers, including ambient titles like last year’s Blatherskite Empath Analysis of Omen Puzzle ’92. And while she draws from a harsher, denser palette on Drip Mental, her affinity for wide-open soundscapes shines through all the abrasiveness, binding together the music’s disparate sounds. On opening track “Subconscious Pilsen Relics Pt 2 [CODENAME_AIRPLANE MODE],” Elliott’s saxophone decays into a vaporous swirl that, for a few seconds at least, aspires to the majesty of, say, Vangelis’ Blade Runner score.
The album is just as effective when it gets ugly. Marcloid’s muffled screams of the words “I dreamt that every man who didn’t fight for me was shot” at the end of “All Deth is U [CODENAME_FINAL TOUCH LOCATION]” cut through the darkness, evoking a violent kind of anguish. It is in moments like these, or when Marcloid sings that “Guns don’t kill people unless the guns are me/ In a sea of semen a slug can still be free,” that Drip Mental is at its most disturbingly provocative and, paradoxically, its most human.
Throughout, Marcloid references early-’90s artifacts of internet and computer culture—a sound evoking the familiar ping that once announced a new e-mail message, the fonts and the tower-style PC that grace the album cover—but she operates in a universe wholly separate from smiley-faced chiptune artists who romanticize dated media formats.
As well she should. In the age of Gamergate and cyberbullying, we are too well-acquainted with the internet’s menacing underbelly to focus solely on tickling ourselves with its surface joys. Though Drip Mental‘s lens is aimed at the past, it’s hardly nostalgic. Instead, it offers stark insights into contemporary online existence. For years, sci-fi and cyberpunk have warned of soon-coming future dystopias. On Drip Mental, that dystopia is now, and it’s an internal condition. Angel Marcloid explores that treacherous terrain with sharp insight and skill.