Subsonic Eye, “All Around You”
By Will Ainsley · September 15, 2023 Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Cassette, Vinyl LP

It’s that yodeling voice crack that does it. Like Dolores O’Riordan or Sinéad O’Connor, the vocal performances of Nur Wahidah, the singer of Subsonic Eye, are often characterized by brief jumps from alto to falsetto, from chest to head. They’re a nice way into Subsonic Eye (and their new album, All Around You) who do their best to sound reserved and chilly (all clean lines and choppy rhythms) but can’t help themselves from occasionally breaking out into something more tender.

Although the group’s third album, Nature of Things, detailed the “natural world fast disappearing,” on All Around You, they decided to explore nature’s co-existence with “urban cities.” It’s easy to see how this has translated into the songs, which seem built from glass, metal, poured concrete, and polished stone. The production sounds almost steam-cleaned—there’s the transparency of math rock, the flat arrangement style of dream pop, and dry, metallic guitar sounds borrowed from post-rock. There’s a certain opacity to tracks like “J-O-B” and “Machine”; they’re slippery and difficult to judge the emotional tenor of. The breathlessness of “Circle” and “Performative” (the latter a contender for one of the tracks of the year—it’s beautiful) conjures the feel of cars rushing around junctions or streets bustling with people. These songs whirl and flurry, but never quite settle.

The album is not totally impenetrable, though. Wahidah acts as a kind of tour guide to millennial life in the big city, uninterestedly discussing “charging laptops, ticking boxes,” yoga, or capitalism; sometimes her singing might dissolve into muffled unintelligibility, like she just can’t be bothered to be heard above the metropolis’ industrial roar. Furthermore, brief moments of respite—like a pretty chord change; a glowing, liquid guitar line; or a yodeling voice crack—can also throw an entire song into relief, like the sun peeking through clouds onto a skyscraper and making you notice, however momentarily, the powerful curves, the mosaic-like glass, and the tiny people inside.

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