MELVL: Live at the Crystal Palace


Lathe cut 7″ and download

Two 10-minute swathes of doom-laden ambient darkness from Martina Fortin Jonas, aka MELVL, recorded from a live set last December in Richmond, Virginia. Despite the odd audience cough and splutter this is enveloping, engrossing stuff, mixing Jonas’ devotional coos and calls with layers of soupy electronics and growling low-end drones. Jonas is part of the Womajich Dialyseiz collective, a bunch of people making various flavours of queer noise and improv sounds in Virginia, some of whom are tangentially connected to the excellent Grimalkin Records, which is also based in Richmond and puts out material from all over the place with a non-binary / queer slant. It’s all excellent stuff, basically, and you should check it out, partly because money raised through music sales is often diverted to essential LGBTQIA+ resources such as the Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia or the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, but mainly because the releases are fantastic.

‘Live at the Crystal Palace’ is a fine example of the Grimalkin aesthetic. ‘Ita, missa est’ takes as its starting point the concluding Latin words of the Roman Catholic mass (“Ita missa est, allelulia, allelulia, deo gratias allelulia, allelulia”), Jonas’s repetitions augmented by clouds of reverb and delay to add suitably liturgical touches. A right bloody storm rages underneath, the seething white noise swirl like some slo-motion tsunami smashing a helpless coastal city into smithereens. As the waves pound and crash in grainy, digital distress, Jonas’s voice continues unperturbed, a ghost floating through the wreckage perhaps or just a bodiless lament for the victims of wanton destruction.

Given that this is one of the Grimalkin releases in which any cash raised goes to the Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia, it’s perhaps interesting to consider Jonas’s sonic assault as a metaphor for the structural and bodily violence visited on transgender people on daily basis around the world and their vocals a point of transcendence in the face of such shit. On the other hand, maybe these are just good, well-made sounds.

Certainly ‘Love You, Lucien’ is less open to easy symbolic interpretation, despite being equally as laden with foreboding as its counterpart. A bass drone that’s as beautiful and dangerous as a panther checking out a gazelle at the creek throbs and pulses with barely-restrained malevolence. Audience shuffles and stomps can’t dispel the nefarious aura, although when Jonas’s swooning cries and calls start up the breathy wonder shifts things from predatory evil into a goggle-eyed galactic tumble. From then on we’re Alice in a zero-gravity drift down the rabbit-hole, Jonas’s wordless song pulling us like a tractor beam out of the claustrophobic gloom and into an endless, timeless singularity. 



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