Scissor Lock’s Churn is enigmatic
It took me a while to realise what the cover of Scissor Lock’s Churn EP actually was. At first I thought I might be an ex who churned the old heart up, or maybe even a shot of Marcus Whale himself. Rather, it’s a homage to Whale’s passion for power-pop. Think Connor Maynard, Mariah Carey, Usher, Destiny’s Child and of course Justin Bieber. It’s a screen shot from Mr Bieber’s extended selfie clip to Beauty and the Beat. Just him hanging with casual pool pals, Nicki Minaj and Selena Gomez (R.I.P Jelena 2012).
In an odd way the artwork to Sydney’s Scissor Lock perfectly sums up the record. The semi-obscured face, the movement, the ambiguity. I’ve said it before, but I’m sure Marcus Whale could create big sickly pop anthems and the fact that he doesn’t is testament to the whole art versus entertainment argument. This EP is all about expression and emotion, not mindless mass entertainment. Not that I have a problem with big pop, fuck I love Taylor Swift. Rather Churn is a blurred, distorted snap shot of pop, much like the Belieber cover art.
Scissor Lock hasn’t made much of an appearance on the scene since his four part Broken English release which was centered around choral loops and slow hazy synth accompaniments. Churn is very much a different sound, but a natural progression at that. Isolated pitch shifting loops slide and jangle around low humming beats, sonar-shaking slaps, and warped vocals like the minimalistic cousin of Laurel Halo.
Such distance between the releases could be brought down to the success of Collarbones – the duo in which Whale and beat maker extraordinaire Travis Cook construct hypnotic R’n’B love songs. Their second album Die Young, which I so fervently love, landed them spots on Melbourne’s Sugar Mountain festival bill alongside tours with Worlds End Press and the UK’s Jessie Ware.
The closest you’ll get to Collarbones here is on the title track. Built up of the haunting cyclical ringing of some synthetic sound, it’s where Whale presents his vocals at their most interpretable and forefront. Granted, Churn is lyrically less beholden to comprehension but, it’s the sound of the raw tortured vocals that provide all the emotion here.
Where Die Young dealt generally with Whale’s interpersonal relationships, Churn is a far more self-reflective exercise, broadly tackling the question of “knowing oneself”. This may all sound pretty far fetched but I haven’t just pulled this straight from the music. In a statement on Portals site, Whale describes the EP to be “expressing the uncertainty I’m feeling in my life at the moment, slowly coming to terms with being at least partly indiscernible, appearing as a cloud of features, maybe even to myself.”
Nowhere is this thematic presence more evident than in EP opener Outer Space which features a dropped octave sample from Jhene Aiko’s Space Jam. “I met him in outer space/He asked me what I was doing there/ ‘cause I looked out of place” sings Aiko on the original, while Outer Space focuses on the opening phrase. This is about as accessible Churn gets, with the track soon flourishing from the initial sample to a languid chugging beat and soundscape of twinkling synthesizers.
It’s on None that the aforementioned Laurel Halo comparisons rings true. Purely a vocal track filtered and mind-bendingly distorted through a vocoder, Whale’s voice glimmers and fades with every aching call. For those unfamiliar with Laurel Halo’s most recent album Quarantine, it’s an incredibly claustrophobic uncomfortable record – written and recorded in a windowless Brooklyn apartment. Nevertheless it’s a fantastic experience and exhibition in production and musical progression. Don’t get me wrong, Scissor Lock and Laurel Halo are vastly different, but it’s the rift of discomfort which resonates through both records which I’m getting at here.
Whale closes Churn with my personal favourite and potentially the most interesting track to this beguiling EP, I Guess. Fronted by a dissonant ringing, samples of waves and a low, almost religious chant, I Guess isn’t too dissimilar from the work of Fatima Al Qadiri. Either that or it sounds like you have a really, fuck-off bad case of tinnitus.
Churn manages to feel both incredibly expansive and yet uncomfortably close. It isn’t easy listening, and it’s not something I’d usually write about, but there’s something undeniably fascinating about this record. It’s the confusing contrast between Collarbones which makes this project even more interesting. Where Collarbones is all sensual-sass, Scissor Lock is an enigmatic thought provoking sonic experience.
Scissor Lock launches Churn on the 27th of January at STIL 3/81 Sydenham Rd, Marrickville, Sydney with Supports from Golden Blonde, Simo Soo & Koro Vacui.