Karen And Peter’s Aggro Dolce

(Cruel Nature Records)

Preview of the illustrative thirty second video that we don’t have the technology/permission to be able to embed here at Times Boredom

At the top of the bandcamp page for Karen & Peter’s ‘Aggro Dolce’ album is a video. It’s a 32 second clip of the 5th track ‘Weekend in the Berkshires.’ And it’s a perfectly apt sample of the entire record. If you like it, you’re gonna love the album. If it doesn’t do it for you, none of the songs, the sounds, or the spoken word poetry vocalist Karen Schoemer is famous for are going to reach you.

The clip is so bleak and creepy, so seemingly random and filled with mundane stream of thought observations… a series of random fuzzy high art images flash slowly, almost painfully, and then a face appears within the haze. It’s Karen Schoemer, New York punk poetess of the 21st century, monotonally berating you in a calm and measured but almost unbearably intense, direct manner. She’s staring right at you. Speaking right to you. Seeing right through you.

If you’ve heard any of Schoemer’s other projects (our local favorites Sky Furrows perhaps or her collaborations with Watt, Wreckless Eric, Amy Rigby, etc.), you’re going to recognize her inimitable vocal stylings and post-beat post-punk poetry. If not, the calm and placid monotonal stream of consciousness utterings covering over an ocean of endtime anxiety that run throughout the entire course are evocative of other NYC punk princess poetesses’ we’ve compared her to before like Patti Smith and Kim Gordon.

But this album is very different from everything else I’ve heard Schoemer involved in because of the post-rock, classical music/sound collages under the vocals. The free synths and white noise so perfectly encase and are used as a vehicle for her idiosyncratic vocals, both of which complement each other to such a great degree that they enhance one another in a way hereto unheard of. Which, if you’re used to Schoemer’s other projects, is a shock to the system. Even she admittedly states she’s in unusualy territory here, as on ‘En Hiver “it’s unnerving. The way these songs change. No rhythm tracks in the snow. No marks. No measures. The hillside strangely empty of drums and guitars.”

And yet the minimalist ambience created by Peter (Taylor)’s anxious, existentialist soundscapes speaks of a spirit so kindred to Karen’s vocals that’s even further increased by seeing his artworks juxtaposed with her written poetry in the liner notes (who knew that recorders in this century were still using every piece of the artwork and space available to them to express themselves?). And yet, according to the liner notes, they’ve never met! Peter is living in a region of England scarred by coal mining and asbestos contamination. Karen, as far as we know, is in the gigantic brownfield that is the American post-corporate Capitalist scape (“woods without squirrels or insects”) of the ‘Empire State’. In which case it makes a great deal of sense that 2 artists that have never actually met are completely ‘in tune’ with each other, like the ‘special relationship’ between the trappings of the old Empire and the New, which is now also slowly but surely crumbling and decaying. Perhaps if they were to meet it might actually spoil the bond that clearly exists between them on the record — in any case here’s hoping they continue to collaborate from their eerily similar home spaces (anyone that’s worked from home with colleagues knows what I mean and the shared feelings you experience regardless of distance, time, or space), joined by the toxic leavings of the hands of unimaginably powerful, irresponsible men that have destroyed our worlds.

Beautiful playbill of Liner Notes

In case I haven’t made this clear, this is NOT happy or light music in any way. It is DARK and it is HEAVY. And it is repetitive and pointless and anxious yet calming and 20 months pregnant with the suspense of 7 civil wars that could start at any moment, ‘just a shot away’. That’s the mood it paints, and that’s the mood just about everyone’s in right now whether they admit it or not. The radio plays ‘pop tones’ while a hellish backlash Presidency that nearly reignited the same stupid Civil War we’ve been passively aggressively fighting for over 150 years was interrupted by a global pandemic thrown into the powder keg that locked us in our miserable homes where we hate and plot against our neighbors because THAT’S WHAT STRONG PEOPLE DO in America according to the television shows we binge watched while at all costs we told ourselves REMAIN CALM REMAIN CALM REMAIN CALM.

It sounds calm; this is what calm sounds like. Peter Taylor’s synths, found sounds, and the very occasional/rare crack or pop that heralds some kind of a beat — it’s a circle of hell. It sounds like a slow boil off the entire surface of the ocean while Karen whispers in our ear calmly, “100 men flayed raw…” and then something about the Velvet Underground(?). “This road wasn’t here. This valley wasn’t here. The stream became a reservoir. The flood came down the hill past the Catholic Church. This was a stream. It shouldn’t be a lake!”

I completely understand it and yet I don’t. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do. I know we have to stay calm and tend to our mundane little lives in the midst of indefatigable and unstoppable global change and misery.

This is not only the soundtrack of our lives but inside our MINDS right now. Somewhere between a late Scott Walker track and an ambient Eno airport scene about to break into a Wolf Eyes nightmare at any minute. And Karen keeps whispering in our ear… over our “Weekend in the Berkshires”; “don’t drink the water… species crash disturbs the unintended garden… no sense of space under there… just cement, on dirt, the weather warm and strange. Sweating no longer cools the body — are you coming over after band practice? Are you ignoring my texts?

God, it’s only Tuesday.”

An intimidating list of other releases on the Cruel Nature records page — no doubt other hidden gems exist throughout but who will sort through all the records without samples, all the music not on the radio, all the challenging pieces of art that point the way towards what’s really moving forward with the artform of music today as the underground moves further and further from the mainstream to a degree where it seems they’re becoming so irreconcilable that a new Pixies type breakthrough will be literally impossible in the future…

This is a perfect descriptive piece of art, the ‘soundtrack of our minds’ for anyone in the old Empire living through 2022. Our stupid lives, childhood traumas, pointless adult lusts pulsing through the bleak soundscape of the hypnotising hellish (or calming, entertaining bread and circuses depending on how you look at it) soundscape that keeps us stable and sane enough to say ‘everything is alright… enough’. But it sure as hell is not. And this photorealistic capture of this moment in time of the collective unconscious is what art SHOULD BE.

Damn those blatantly superficial radio songs that are clearly designed to put us in a buying mood and out of our existential, nihilistic anxiety about the present and fuck me do I NOT want to even THINK about the future. That’s what the people are listening to because that’s what’s being aggressivley marketed to them without mercy. But Aggro Dolce by Karen and Peter is what’s really going on… in our world, in our minds, defining new sounds and a new form of music for the post-post modern age. It’s found sound collage and ancient beatnik poetry and sadcore that’s accepting of and refuses to be terrified by the current age but accepts it as it is. It’s as bleak and hopeless as it gets.

And it’s the most transcendent piece of art I’ve heard in decades, pointing THE WAY FORWARD for genuinely artistic, expressionistic music in the new century and beyond

-Keith Sonin

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