Dear Laika, “Pluperfect Mind”
By Sasha Geffen · October 27, 2021 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Cassette

Isabelle Thorn’s background as a choir singer shows not just in her searching head voice, but in the way her compositions insinuate space. Her debut album as Dear Laika, Pluperfect Mind, winds together electronic noise with acoustic reverberations, the kind of sonic spaciousness one typically encounters in cathedrals. Rather than shuttering her strings and prepared piano, she lets her synthetic gestures ring out alongside her organic ones, floating in a cavernous, empty space. Roland synths, tape glitches, and distorted samples all sound liberated here, never at odds with their acoustic counterparts but alive in mutually reinforcing symbiosis; they grow together until the difference in their origin falls away, irrelevant. Each method of instrumentation opens up another until the whole sound field is a sprawling landscape for Thorn’s voice to roam.

Across that unbounded space, Pluperfect Mind tracks the way desire haunts its object, Thorne’s own changing self. Like other messy endeavors of becoming, gender transition fixes desire in an odd frame: What you want is yourself, but more so. How do you measure the distance between the self you want and the self that’s doing the wanting? What does it take for them to reach out and clasp hands? With elegant, loping vocal melodies, Thorne triangulates the “I” and the “me” and the “you” of narrative songwriting in an intricate dance. One self rushes ahead and the other struggles to catch up. One loses the other and grieves until the two can reunite. There are flashes of terror and desolation that give way to stretches of languorous relief. “I am ready,” Thorne repeats on “Asleep in Wildland Fire,” stressing the words toward their breaking point each time. Her voice reaches its apex and collapses. The space expands; the voice curls around itself, steadies, and blooms past its limit.

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