Track by Track: FRIENDSHIPS – FISHTANK (ANTEROGRADE / DOT DASH, 2020)

Words: James Frostick and Nic Brown

Earlier this week friendships officially dropped FISHTANK, a brand-new album of multifaceted electronic music and visual accompaniments – a reverberating opus that might be one of the year’s most remarkable releases. Nic Brown takes us through the album’s distinct movements via a track-by-track breakdown – a tour as surreal and otherworldly as the listening/viewing experience itself.

Fully engaging with a friendships record is always an intimidating prospect. The experimental audiovisual duo, consisting of Misha Grace and Nic Brown, have fearlessly committed to pushing the envelope across all facets of the project’s approach to art.  Their last record, 2016’s Nullabor 1988-1989, was a galvanising effort full of unexpected turns and surprises – breakneck beats gliding into ecstasy-inducing peaks plummeting into subterranean wobble shuffle-stepping into club-friendly unce crawling into quiet desperation and then rising once more into moments of high-stakes drama. The group’s brand-new follow-up FISHTANK takes these same compelling elements and elevates them further, morphing the conventional listening experience and transforming it into a transcendentally edifying adventure.

As put by Nic in the track-by-track breakdown below, FISHTANK is essentially a journey or a process by which the band charts the dissolution and reassembly of the self. Throughout my listens, FISHTANK gradually unfolds, introducing me to a succession of intangible spectres that serve to coax more of a personal unravelling, stripping away defences and leaving just a vulnerable core – a single foundational piece upon which to rebuild. FISHTANK, while on the surface is a multi-textured record of inventive and ear-catching thump, is also a harrowing listen. It begins with a prayer – a plea for help and a call for strength, and soon after our supplication is met with a churning, oppressive sci-fi industrial dissonance. We ascend, transitioning from a corporeal existence into something raw and unrefined – our beings transmuted via electrical current, rendered a floating collection of memory and thought, severed from the physical realm. From here FISHTANK further disseminates and dismantles our essence, filtered through driving techno furores, haunting piano melodies, whispered spoken-word passages and grotesque rhythmic carnivals. It’s hard for me to succinctly put into words what I think of this album. I really like it, but I think I need more time to accurately convey the why. All I can offer right now is that FISHTANK is by far one of the more engaging albums I’ve listened to this year. If I make a ‘best of’ list at year’s end maybe I’ll have more for you, until then, I leave it up to Nic to provide the insight I can’t.

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‘come on in precious’
FISHTANK is set in first person. You assume the central character and let the world envelope around you. A cyclical journey inwards to losing self, skin shedding and rebirth. This track is the gateway or threshold to the fantasy world of FISHTANK. It acts as a call or lure inwards. We use god (nondescript) as a symbol of purity and spiritualism. I love the idea of god acting as a call to arms or the catalyst for a noble quest. It’s like the belief is enough to carry you through, when really the belief exists in your head. So really, this righteous battle, good and evil, whatever, was always a battle with yourself. It’s like you’re taking arms to battle your own demons, disguised in fantasy. The fantasy is this world of FISHTANK. Toot toot, jump on board!


‘enjoy your memories’
Once you have crossed the threshold into the unknown, this track or movement (I’ll start referring to tracks as movements) is a memory of home . It’s like, as things start to intensify in FISHTANK, this is the thought of “why the fuck did I do this, I want to go back, I love home, home is safe”. As you’re having this thought the world of FISHTANK is infiltrating the movement. So if FISHTANK exists in your mind, this is the thought you are having while playing the character – kind of like a thought within a thought. It’s intended to feel like a push and pull. Or like being in a warm bath, then realising you’re actually in a washing machine, then realising you’re actually in bog water… then continually cycling through.


‘how i used to paint’
This movement acts as the first battle or challenge. You lose btw. This movement introduces the piano repetition and broken message that is reused and re-intensified throughout the journey. Many of the movements in FISHTANK share the same root chord progression and dialogue. In this movement, it’s broken, slow and sad. It’s kind of like, you can’t decode the message… even though it’s from yourself… maybe future self, or past self or like the combination of both. I love playing on the learned helplessness theory. If you haven’t read about it, have a quick google now. It’s impossible to overcome a challenge if it has become your norm. Pain or loss or whatever is the default. Normalised.


‘wasp’
This movement is centred around acknowledging you are losing yourself… and enjoying this entity you’re becoming. Enjoying cutting yourself down. It’s intended to feel destructive and aggressive and somewhat claustrophobic. At the core it’s self destructive. As you are slicing off parts of yourself, the world of FISHTANK twists and turns and reacts. It’s like enjoying the chaos of destroying yourself.


‘smokers area 19’
This movement acts as a realisation point. You have manifested yourself into this self-destructive warrior, destroying everything in their path. Then you catch yourself. Kind of like looking in a mirror and not being able to recognise the person. I guess like a jekyll and hyde moment, and you finally realise you have been hyde this whole time. The realisation should feel like sleep paralysis – like get me the fuck out of here.


‘take no prisoners’
This movement revisits the same piano chord progression in how i used to paint. It’s kind of like returning to that movement with a guide or mentor. Mish wrote the lyrics on this track pulling on her lived experience with epilepsy. I remember visiting Mish in the hospital when the docs were trying to understand her form of epilepsy (one of the rarest in the world). To understand how it worked, she needed to induce multiple seizures so they could identify the pathway. Can you imagine how fucking terrifying that would have been? Mish is one of the strongest people I know. Revisiting that moment in this movement and project with clarity is a testament to her artistry. In this movement, Mish is visited by a death angel who offers her the choice to go with her or return to the hospital bed. We recorded this in one take at 3am in the morning. I can barely recall physically being there. I remember seeing Mish transforming and morphing in this vortex. When the movement ended all the light came back in the room and it felt like I had come out of this trance. It was fucking wild.


‘meat sack’
This movement acts as a memory. Essentially, you are reliving the catalytic event that sent you on this spiralling journey down. I wanted to play around with the idea of perspective – to get this holistic and somewhat distorted 360 view of the event. Walk in the shoes of the oppressor or hero and absorb the viewpoint. It’s not intended to heal, more so confuse and distort your reality. This is left somewhat open (as with the whole project) for you to insert your lived experience. I think it’s human to share this feeling of spiralling out of control, inwards, losing self and then rebirth. FISHTANK is the framework designed in fantasy.


‘was i good’
I adore this movement. This is the first piece of FISHTANK Mish and I formed that put the project into perspective. This movement acts as a total loss of self. This is the abyss. We wanted it to feel like you are under kilometres of ocean water. Total darkness. Surrounded by nothing. You can’t see yourself. Do you still exist and if so, who are you? What were you like? Was I good? It again calls on the same root piano progression. The same slices of dialogue. Somehow clearer than before yet deranged and empty.


‘duet for a crying chihuahua dancing for a ring of wealthy crows’
Like ‘meat sack’, this movement is a memory of the catalytic event. However, this is revisited with total clarity. Your perspective. The heartbreak lived as if it was happening right now. This is observation and learning. Understanding and healing. Yeah it’s painful, but it’s necessary. You are yet to get out of FISHTANK, you need this strength to shed your skin and overcome your final challenge.


‘happyness’
This movement acts as the final battle between good and evil. A titanic clash of force. You vs You. I wanted it to feel aware and lucid. Like you are slowly peeling back the veil on FISHTANK. At the same time, FISHTANK is remaining agile – distorting and manipulating and changing to combat your strengths. It should feel strangely hopeful and powerful and at the same time nihilistic and hopeless. You get that? lol


‘MLG_recovery patch’
This final movement is left somewhat open ended. On one hand, I feel like this is rebirth. This is the journey come full circle. Skin shed, healed and stronger than ever. On the other hand, it could be the start of FISHTANK. You have come this far only to end up back at the start. Like a loop that infinitely spirals down. I mean I hope not, cos that’s fucking dark dude but it’s your ride. Where did you end up?

FISHTANK is officially available via Anterograde (a physical USB release) and through Dot Dash / Remote Control Records (digital release).

BANDCAMP / SOUNDCLOUD