Review Summary: when I hold my breath, your lungs collapse
Chelsea Monteiro is an IDM artist from Texas and she has spent the last 2(+) years dropping a prolific slew of albums I will likely never listen to. The reasons for this will clear themselves up very shortly, but now is not the time for her portfolio: the year is fresh, and so is her latest work, My Mind's On Fire, and There's No Driver at the Wheel
. This record sees Monteiro stretch a rather un-frenetic take on Drill and Bass over an hour-plus runtime that promises grit, gloom, and an uneasy contrast between exterior tumult and internal misgivings, advertised under an edgy one-liner and a $0 price tag. What could go wrong?
Well, for starters, the album is far stronger rhythmically than melodically. Monteiro’s sense of melody is at once too bland and too meandering to deliver memorable motifs, and yet it’s distinctly foregrounded in the majority of tracks. “Break a Sweat (The Wolves are Chasing)” is a convenient culprit here, listlessly cycling through note combinations that might as well have been procedurally generated as though scuffling for a footing it never finds; it’s practically a habit by the end of the record. On top of that, Monteiro is often amateurish in her tone choice: any sound rooted in synth vox leaves an unfortunate aftertaste, as do the chimes in closer “Shadowplays”. She fares better in harsher palettes (“Burning”), in understated cuts (“They Won't Find Me in the Sewers” jettisons melody and leans Industrial for a claustrophobic showstopper), or when she subjugates her winding tendencies to cyclical ones (“The Room's Getting Smaller”), but really the highlight of this record is its percussion. Though Monteiro’s tones could use a little sharpening and her beats are a tad familiar, her approach is more engaging - outright enjoyable! - when she switches up her rhythms and lets the batterie run away with itself, as on late highlight “There’s No Breaks in Life”. The mix heavily overprivileges her synths and these cuts are few and far between; they command all the more attention when they do crop up. So, that’s good. That’s something worth holding onto.
However, if there’s an outright fatal flaw here, it’s that it’s as hard to pin down Monteiro’s vision beyond a vague outline as it is to superimpose one’s own. Clearly not the kind of IDM to self-posit as a technical showcase, there’s a recurrent allusion throughout the album to an atmosphere or scene
, a whiff of something
that would afford these tracks the framework of intrigue they so very much need and sustain that sixty-nine minute runtime with the momentum it demands. The striking title, together with such others as “Biting Nails to the Cuticle” and “Pool of Blood on the Sidewalk (Don't Think About It)”, teases some sense of narrative or image ambiguously positioned between the cinematic and the diaristic, a probably-vivid spectator/spectacle Happening that hardly ever surfaces in any tangible form and is too drowned out in the album’s greaseless roundabout of mediocre synthlines to allow the audience to fill in the gaps themselves. Credit where it’s due, the music sometimes rises to the occasion - “This City Doesn't Care About You” certainly makes good on the scale of its titular frigidity – but the proportion of this record that devotes itself to churning through awkward motions is too great not to be stifling. Drill and Bass be damned, My Mind's On Fire…
is too often a listless showcase of dull-things-that-happen rather than a springboard for exciting-things-that-you-can-picture-happening. Too bad. Dial me up when Monteiro knuckles down over her tone library or catches an atmosphere that can withstand this kind of DAW-mumbling; I’m back to Drukqs
in the meantime.