Disorder is a common thread among experimental artists working in electronic music. One needn’t look further than the discographies of Houndstooth or PAN to find releases whose threatening textures seem to constantly implode, channelling our shared sensation of flying through information at breakneck speeds while the world collapses around us. But Nicholas Zhu, aka bod [包家巷], has a markedly different approach on their latest album, Limpid Fear [清澈恐惧]. Rather than bludgeoning us with an onslaught of neo-industrial throbs, or drowning us in distortion, with their latest record, Zhu actually finds a cautious sense of calm.
The Los Angeles/Berlin-based Zhu belongs to a circle of artists that includes Organ Tapes and malibu, who approach the club from a far more intimate perspective than many electronic musicians, wrapping their lo-fidelity laptop samples in wilting melodies and smearing it all with soft-focus production. Zhu’s music feels like it’s built from the most basic of tools, all distorted presets and lightly plucked digital keys, but the world they build is immersive. On Limpid Fear [清澈恐惧], bod presents two side-long tracks that crest between canyons of zig-zagging artificial noise, dipping into ear-splitting tones only to come out with stripped-down neo-futurist ballads, their voice coated in Auto-Tune. Zhu finds a special balance by contrasting disorienting sound effects and calming, traditional guzheng and sanxian strings, creating music that explores their Chinese heritage through a personal, modern lens.
Towards the end of the album, Zhu whispers into the mic so closely as to trigger anybody with a predisposition toward ASMR, stumbling over their words with a willful juvenalia: “It’s like a rain falling on the ocean. It just keeps going and going… You’re surrounded by the water, but you can see the surface as it ripples with each drop. You can watch the chaos, and accept its existence into the clarity that surrounds you.” In interviews, Zhu often speaks of the precarious situations that artists are placed in today’s socioeconomically unforgiving times, when taste is manufactured and sold to the highest bidder, and creation is always subordinate to consumption. But on Limpid Fear [清澈恐惧], bod [包家巷] yearns for peace so earnestly that one almost forgets the raging maelstrom of sounds happening around us, as if that acceptance Zhu speaks of were the only path forward to bringing about a new world.