It’s good to have the newly mononymous Taraka Larson back, formerly one-half of the manifesto-penning dance punk outfit Prince Rama. The duo broke up in 2019 when her bandmate (and sister) Nimai Larson called to say she was retiring from the music scene. In lieu of a swan song, Taraka compiled Rage in Peace, a short EP of the band’s remaining songs that she finished on her own. Then she pressed it onto vinyl containing the ashes of the bonfire into which she’d thrown Prince Rama’s stage outfits, records, and whatever else. Apparently she briefly swore off making music.
Whatever that bonfire did for Taraka, it certainly didn’t dull her musical sensibilities. Solo debut Welcome to Paradise Lost is a mind-scrambling collection of bratty punk, shambolic psycho-sonic-babble, sun-bleached revivalist surf, and old-school psych ridden hard and put away wet. Abstract sonic collages swallow melodies and outros, repeatedly. Where a lesser artist might have put a bridge, Taraka jerks “Total Failure” into a new key and sugary commercial-jingle weirdness with no more than 30 seconds to spare.
Her dadaist machinations dazzle by the sheer force of their maximalism. “0010110” is the album’s digital age reinterpretation of “A Day in the Life,” a madcap unfurling of garbled sonic sediment: a phone ringing, a gong, an uncanny robocall voice speaking nonsense, a snippet of some medieval-sounding procession march, and binary code. (The sequence in question will get you to Weird YouTube in record time.)
Imperative to Paradise’s surrealism and disorientation are its moments of feeling, in which Taraka’s delivery shifts into children’s TV levels of sing-songy while her phrases teeter between genuine emotional directness and rote sentimentalism. She dares you to call her bluff. On lo-fi ballad “Deep Hollow”: “It’s so easy to be hard on yourself/ Why’s it so hard to be easy on yourself?” On album finale “Old Gloves,” over a cello plucked from the score of a tragic period drama: “All your dreams will come/ Just got to keep trying.”
As the record’s paradoxical title implies, where this leaves Taraka is uncertain. Solo debuts tend to serve as opening statements and introductions, inviting listeners to know you better (and on your own terms). Here Taraka does the opposite. By keeping her melodies and the listener unmoored, Paradise shows us how little we know her at all.