The room where I write has a south-facing window with a small, leafy bush growing in front of it. There is a young bird that has flown up to it daily and spent a few minutes peering through at me, scrabbling and pecking at the glass for the last week and a half or so. I’m not bird-savvy, nor do I care to identify it. Still, I know it is the same bird every day because of the pattern of markings on its chest. Its consistent body language, and especially its odd behavior. Why am I telling you this? I am telling you because, for the last three days, this bird has exhibited this strange attempt at entry right around the 1-minute mark of the song “True Crime” by The Asthmatic. The tension building through the song raises the hairs on the back of my neck, then like clockwork, there’s the familiar shadow and sound of tiny claws against the glass. I turn my head slowly and see the weird, winged interloper staring down on me with its little jet-black eyes inspiring a moment of genuine terror seldom felt during waking hours.
“It’s just a bird.”
I tell myself and shake it off. Today marked the third repetition of the same bizarre experience, and it’s begun to feel like some sort of dark omen.
The Asthmatic has been a staple of Portland’s fantastical underground scene of abrasive noise, weird electronic, and dark art rap for years, and rightly so. Her sound collages, as she describes them, are composed of loops and samples, masterfully transporting you into the world of subconscious fears and odd feelings. From the moment you hear her unique and unmistakable vocals, a spell has been cast. She is one of those rare performers who seems to waste no effort meeting you in your world, but creating her world around you so that you have no choice but to be drawn in.
Strange Tongues follows a nightmare-logic, both familiar and unpredictable. I feel the same thing listening to it as I did upon my first viewing of David Lynch’s Lost Highway. It has that sort of sinister, secretive atmosphere with hints of shadowy violence that cast a sense of unease even during moments that convey a more celebratory tone. This album isn’t a far cry from what we’re used to hearing from The Asthmatic, but it does seem to have branched into some rather exciting developments. While the collaging technique is found throughout the album, several tracks register as more “normal” songs, with hooks, verses, and steady beats. There is also spoken word poetry and instrumental interludes. Many influences can be found melded together, but common threads throughout the record are an unexpectedly harmonious blend of cinematic string arrangements and afrobeat rhythms.
Check out the latest from The Asthmatic, Strange Tongues on bandcamp – if you dare!