Y’know, I was about to start this review with some kooky conceit about chopped salads and chopped vocals. And I woulda gotten away with it, because this latest smorgasbord from Alessandra Hoshor, a.k.a. Pamela_ and her sons, could seem a baffling tossed mess to the uninitiated. But listen closer, and the blueprints for Hurt Plaza slowly fade into view, like invisible ink over neon green paper. We’re not talking about Autechre-level austerity, nor the alien designs of Nicolas Jaar, but something more akin to the super-textured, crazy kinetic scrapbook approach of Actress. In other words — bizarre but deliberate, and definitely not leafy.
If Hurt Plaza were indeed a plaza, then Hoshor’s effervescent vocals would spring forth from the central fountain. Like the L.A.-based sound architect Katie Gately, Hoshor forges breathing landscapes out of artificial babble, with several layers stacked and slanted into a precarious Janga tower. “All Out” perhaps spins into the dizziest round, with bubbles of synthesized “ohs” blending in with Hoshor’s own warped voices; “Sad Laugh,” too, beguiles with a dizzying array of laughs that pop like pistons. Whispers and murmurs lend texture to the walls, like in the 5 a.m. factory after-party of “Rush” and the clattering “Almost!” Those weird loops are what make Hurt Plaza so alien, even when the tiles on the floor look like the same damn tiles in other plazas.
But where Gately throws in everything and the kitchen sink into her 3-D pop mazes, a Pamela piece doesn’t need many twists or props to turn yr head in loops. Lead single “Green Light” drifts on little more than a staggered cymbal; “Fantasy” ping-pongs phantom calls through a stuttering vacuum. It’s an economy that you won’t catch at a casual glance, thanks to the bustling pace — and that’s both fascinating and frustrating. For, despite Hoshor’s cunning in the layout, there’s still a flatness here that leaves the listener hungry still. “Xx Restless xX,” in particular, seems unfinished, an electro temple run intended only to bridge “All Out” with “Bom Bom Bop.”
Still, even if some areas of Hurt Plaza seem undeveloped, Hoshur at least knows how to keep guests on their toes. The songs here land all over the map: “Citybridgefucker” pulses with the moldy industrial shade of Front 242; “Bom Bom Bop” traipses downward into the frost of UK grime; “Down the Hall” shuffles like sidewinding footwork into a flurry of topsy-turvy piano. Given the aforementioned economy, though, the “variety” here is really more like a selection between snacks at a vending machine than, say, a spread of food joints in a mall plaza. But, eh — Hoshor probably isn’t planning to build a food court, anyway.
All told, Hurt Plaza may not be the artsiest installment ever, and definitely not the most original design in the vast strip mall of the internet. But on the local block, Pamela_ and her sons stands apart from the pack — and shoppers should hang around a while, if only to marvel at the pretzel-shaped layout.
Hurt Plaza is out March 17 via CGI Records. Pre-orders are available here.
Pamela_and her sons will celebrate the release of Hurt Plaza on Friday, March 17 at Atlanta Contemporary. They will be supported by Sequoyah, Port Conjunctive, Celines, and Stefan Ringer. Doors open at 7 p.m. Admission is $8. All ages.