DeForrest Brown Jr., aka Speaker Music, has a skill many aspire to but few can master—the ability to balance heady theoretical work with strikingly visceral musical production. His 2020 LP Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry was one of our favorite records of the year; its follow-up, Soul-Making Theodicy, bills itself as an EP, but with a runtime of almost 45 minutes and, as always, a firm grounding in Black history and ongoing liberatory praxis, it feels like a much more rich and full statement than that title might imply.
Much of Soul-Making Theodicy is one track—the endlessly fascinating “Rhythmatic Music for Speakers (Mk. II),” which was produced live, using haptic rhythm synthesizers routed through Ableton. It is an explosion of the way we usually consider electronic drums—as loops programmed into drum machines—and a world of ever-shifting patterns to fall into. There are stretches that are minimalist, with complex time signatures, and stretches that are polyrhythmic, including mutations of trap’s classic multiple-kick signature; the liner notes cite Rashied Ali, Max Roach, and Metro Boomin among Brown’s inspirations here. By foregrounding an instrument that rarely appears on its own for too long in electronic music and calling for its connection to Black music across genres, Brown is not only creating a compelling piece of music, he’s asking us as listeners to reframe our own thinking about and responses to what we hear. The three shorter tracks all show off Brown’s electronic drumming process as part of his whole sound, and they are haunting, with an enormous amount of subtlety. Part of what makes Brown’s work so compelling is its open-ended sense of possibility—a characteristic that, on Theodicy, is on full display.