When all you want to do is be the fire part of fire · Album Review ⟋ RA

When they met in 2013 in Ivry-sur-Seine, a city just outside Paris, Neysa Mae Barnett and Emile Larroche wanted their music to sound like nothing else. And they happened pretty quickly. The glitchy, polyrhythmic and folk-infused trip-hop on their debut album, 2022’s Touch The Lock—written on a narrowboat in Oxford—occupies a space of its own when it comes to genre. When all you want to do is be the fire part of fire, their follow-up LP on InFiné Éditions, is an exploration of all the ambivalence, balance and uncertainty that comes with being a human being. Barnett had apparently been listening to a lot of UK dance music—Overmono, Four Tet and the like—before starting work on the album. It bears fruit on the opener, “Art&Life,” where sombre organ chords swirl as a breakbeat whirlwind gathers. It’s disorienting in the best way possible, perfectly accompanying the push and pull between art and life addressed in the lyrics. “Plumbing” is visceral and heavy: the bassline growls with predatory intent under juddering, unquantized drums. Barnett sounds queasy, her voice modulated to sound nightmarish as the production descends into carnage. The duo find the sweet spot between dance music and philosophy on “Zombie,” fusing trip-hop and glitch-hop with Dantean themes and Jungian shadow imagery to somehow—an unlikely, bona fide pop song.

When all you want to do is be the fire part of fire is a Bill Calahan lyric from “Sycamore“, a song about owning who you are, and the tiresome nature of being a person. In “being the fire part of the fire,” UTO envision transcending the temporary nature of warmth and comfort, longing to become the warmth itself. In an Instagram post commemorating the album’s release, the duo said that the album was about things like “Being romantically frustrated bedridden with a big cold” and, “Trying to keep valuable things in pockets with holes.” These states of perpetual displacement and elusive satisfaction are explored in greater detail on the album, like on “Art&Life”: “Art and life / Strangely entwined / When I’m deeply in one / The other one shouts.” There’s never any freedom from this ambivalence, even the last words uttered on the album’s last track, “Bredouille”: “Most of the time I come back empty handed / and I like it this way.” To them it’s the sense of incompleteness that makes life worth living—a means to a forever elusive end. The album constantly oscillates between chaos and serenity. Larroche embellishes leftfield electro beats with evocative acoustic outros, while Barnett’s contemplative songwriting and vocal deliveries are sparse and tender in one moment and urgent and biting in the next. When Barnett sings “It seems you want both / The safe life, the chaos,” on “2MOONS,” it adds up to their approach to the music. The hook on “Napkin” reminds you that the song was written on a napkin while suitably delicate piano chords bounce underneath Barnett’s half-whisper. But the stillness is followed up by the most electric and impressive moment on the album. Moments like this exalt the reverberating power contained within even the smallest of acts. Tender and explosive, dancey yet in pursuit of stillness, yearning yet resigned, it’s an album that contains multitudes. UTO are eccentric yet festival-ready, taking pinches from all of their influences and blending them into moments that are both homespun and anthemic. If anything, the duo’s impressive artistic chemistry is a strong testament to the fact that life and art can exist simultaneously.

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