Genevieve Artadi is perhaps best known for her collaborative work with Los Angeles musician Louis Cole as the independent electronic music duo KNOWER. Coming five years after her debut LP Genevieve Lalala, Artadi’s aptly-named sophomore full-length album is as dizzy and strange as it is delightful.
Though Artadi couldn’t have foreseen that Dizzy Strange Summer would find itself a soundtrack to a world characterized by a pandemic, as well as political and economic unrest, the album conveys what perhaps many of us are feeling in this unprecedented moment. The project, a musical journey through anxiety and disorder, is as unpredictable, melancholic and fleetingly joyful as the summer it finds itself released in. Genres of jazz, pop, electronica and more collide to document a dreamlike descent into disorder and back again.
Artadi establishes the tone for the album with the explosive “I Hate When I Can’t Feel My Heart.” Entirely composed of vocals, it is an anxious song full of frustration, which builds up more and more tension toward its conclusion, as Artadi repeats, “Tired of being stepped all over.”
Following is the softly existential “Living Like I Know I’m Gonna Die.” Two months ago, when COVID-19 and social isolation were still relatively new and when the song was first released as a single, the lyrics might have sounded macabre. Now, they feel almost comforting as they verbalize the uncertainty with which many of us are living: “Living like the future is a guess/ Living like I’m smaller than a/ Smaller than a speck,” Artadi sings over synth with a powerful bass line that pulls the song together.
Artadi returns to high energy with tracks “Godzilllaaaa,” “Nowhere To Go” and “Edge of the Cliff,” in the most danceable stretch of the album. Each of these songs edge near chaos, but they show just the right amount of restraint. They are not lazily chaotic; they are intentionally dizzy. “Edge of the Cliff,” which features Louis Cole and David Binney, tunnels through with heavy drums and a synth motif characteristic of previous KNOWER work before reaching a climactic saxophone solo.
Immediately following these dance tracks is the stripped-down “Will You Tell Me,” in which Artadi’s falsetto soars alongside harp and saxophone. At just under two and a half minutes, it is one of the most intimate moments in the album wherein Artadi’s ethereal vocals shine brightest. As with all her songs, Artadi’s melody is as alluring as it is unpredictable.
If the album was constructed with less care, the transitions between these melancholy ballads and the fast, synth-heavy songs might sound jarring. Instead, the dynamic progression of the track list makes total sense as a journey. Moments of deep reflection coexist with moments of playfulness; seeming chaos directly precedes clarity. Artadi gives equal weight to feelings of anger, despair, hope and confusion, and each track serves a vital purpose.
The most optimistic moments, “Hope Song” and “In What You Believe,” are still qualified with nuance. Artadi refuses to give her audience blind, corny optimism: The kind of hope Artadi sings about in “Hope Song” is uncertain, even unpromised. Similarly, “In What You Believe” embraces growth, some of which is necessarily painful as she sings, “But when your thoughts collide/ It’s fine/ Between the rights and wrongs/ Is your song.”
The decision to end the album with the fast-paced electronic beats of “Cupcake5” directly after the cinematic ending of “Before the Dark” seems to be an odd choice at first. While “Before the Dark” is an acknowledgment of and resignation to the fleeting nature of life, “Cupcake5” reminds her listeners one final time the kind of album they are listening to — one in which choices are unpredictable, but still manage to come together harmoniously.
The beauty of Dizzy Strange Summer comes in its unexpected juxtapositions and nuances. The project is not easily digestible, but ultimately, that is its greatest strength. And along each step of the way, Genevieve Artadi guides us with her most powerful instrument: her voice.
Contact Sarena Kuhn at [email protected].