Words: James Frostick
Several years in the making, Sydney darkwave two-piece L.A Suffocated have finally released a full-length album of bracing synth-heavy electro pop. A collection of bruised remembrances and tear-smudged musings, Dust, Fungus and Blasphemous Thoughts is the soundtrack of emotion exorcised via visceral self-examination and dance-floor catharsis.
“It breaks my heart, thinking of the past.”
This lyrical excerpt, plucked from ‘Twisted Angel (twisting an angel’s arm)’ – track five of Sydney duo L.A Suffocated’s new LP Dust, Fungus and Blasphemous Thoughts – hints at the crux of the record’s inspirational force. The record stretches back years, and not only traces Ellen Pearce and Millie Hall’s output since their emergence in 2016, but also catalogues the tears and turmoil that colour their songs in vivid detail. On this record, the past is all-encompassing and inescapable – as both members dwell and reflect on heartbreak, toxic relationships and the lingering effects they have had on their psyche.
For the uninitiated, L.A Suffocated craft rich club-friendly soundscapes by warping and modulating synthetic noise at will. Dust, Fungus and Blasphemous Thoughts (mixed by DEN’s Micky Grossman and mastered by Matt Kennedy of Kitchen’s Floor) showcases the duo’s knack for articulating heartache, despair and despondence through throbbing electronica, melding brightness and murkiness using synthesiser (sometimes woozy, sometimes droning, sometimes dissonant, sometimes delicate), danceable drum-machine beats and flickers of pure pop ecstasy. Folded into the mix is the vocals – depressed sighs and downcast utterances that almost double as inner monologues accidentally expressed aloud. L.A Suffocated makes sad music you can dance to – detoxifying your soul through rhythm and movement until you are hollow and serene, bereft of the sorrow that caused you to seek respite in the sweaty crucible of the club.
As cathartic L.A Suffocated’s pounding darkwave is, it comes with a weight that needs to be shouldered first. Ellen and Millie are exorcising their demons here, rebuilding themselves over seven tracks of subterranean unce. As synth and beat transform into a sonic maelstrom, the duo whirl themselves around until in the hope that the spinning will set their heads straight. To do this, they dig into the past, pick at scabs that refuse to heal and mix blood with ink. Album opener ‘Star Shaped’ finds L.A Suffocated staring at walls with someone on their mind. They grapple with their self worth and ponder how someone could occupy their minds so completely, unsure if they have the same effect (“Do you even matter? Do I even matter? Does it even matter?”). ‘Hemlock’ – one of L.A Suffocated’s oldest tracks – is a darkly contemplative piece, one that see’s Ellen and Millie scrying their mirrored reflections for answers, searching for the cause of their despair (“Don’t you know how it began? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know“). To me, ‘Looking Over’ is an unflinching look at unhealthy relationships. It examines how we can pour too much of ourselves into another and alter what it was that made a pairing special at the outset, before it became a twisted doppelgänger of what we once knew – different and alien and uncaring. The album’s intensity ramps up towards the closer ‘Pick Me Up’, where L.A Suffocated brings it all together – the beat, the blare, the blast. It’s an unstable cascade of rhythm, with things breaking at the seams. The sonic deluge is paired by a lyrical one – “Pick me up, show my love for you“. It’s a devotional outpouring – an earnest cry for love and a desire to give it, healthy and whole, free from doubt gnawing at the edges. The album ends with just a beat, like the adrenaline pumping in your ears reminding you that your heart is still working.
The record as a whole leaves me eerily calm at the end. L.A Suffocated’s lengthy process of piecing this together would be understandably torturous, but if completing this album eases the pain of the past, then I’d say it was well worth it. Proof, once more, that the club heals all wounds.