“This is not a concept album,” Aïsha Devi stresses in the artist’s statement that accompanied the announcement of DNA Feelings, a follow-up to the Nepalese-Tibetan-Swiss electronic musician’s 2015 debut, Of Matter and Spirit. But despite her statement to the contrary, the clues scattered throughout her gothic club songs on Feelings suggest that she is, indeed, working with some heavy concepts.
Operating in a similar terrain as Arca (another artist preoccupied with biomorphic forms and digital alchemy), Devi stretches the tropes of dance music—icy trance stabs, seismic 808 kicks, percussive cycles of tension and release—into shapes that dangle on the edge of total dissolution. Instead of basslines, she deals in vast, gelatinous sheets of buzz; instead of beats, there are concussive blasts trailing long, glassy reverb tails. She can be disarmingly sweet: “Intentional Dreams” is a weightless ballad in which pitch-shifted, harmonized voices are smeared like iridescent gel; in “Genesis of Ohm,” rubbery arpeggios and eerily-processed vocals recall the Knife’s 2006 album Silent Shout. In the world of DNA Feelings, flesh and silicon are inextricably intertwined.
The key to the whole thing is “Time (Tool),” a hair-raising spoken word interlude that appears toward the end of the LP. Devi’s voice—which, in an unusual twist on the uncanny valley, sounds like a human imitating a computer-generated voice—has the eerie, commanding calm of an airport advisory. “If you name me, you negate me,” she begins, “I am the zero point, the primal vibration / The one and only / I am the mirror and you are me.” Her monologue is run through claustrophobic slap-back reverb, and the way she unspools a tale of space and eternity is both hypnotic and disorienting.
“Hear the tone,” she commands. “Arise aware / You will recognize time as the illusion of solidity / You’ll be the last poet, the truth seeker, the DNA of immortality / You’ll unravel your ghostly matter, have visions of alchemy / You will smile when you die / You will not name me / I am the prophet and you are me.” And with that, Devi slips us into a long, twisting tunnel of distended wails and disembodied voices. Whatever humanity’s eventual merger with the digital might end up looking like, DNA Feelings feels like an unnervingly accurate approximation. This is not a concept album; it’s a work of speculative fiction.