Alex Body — of Twelve Canons, Miracles of God, Giant Question Mark, Shitty Wizard — has released three solo albums, of which Aquarian Nightmare is the most recent. Since 2011’s Cutting Down Camelot, Body has waded further into the electronic end of the psych-pop swamp. This album’s sound is a thick mixture of drum machines and analog synths, and he is more confident of his voice, cutting back a bit on the slapback echo and reverb.
There’s still plenty of low-fi murk in these songs, but now it seems more an artistic choice than a limitation of production value. The drum machine thumps and slaps righteously, the analog synths burble appealingly.
“Water’s Edge” begins with driving triplet lines that end up laying askew across a straight 4/4 kick drum rhythm. When Body sings, I can barely make out the lyrics, but the chorus soars out of the claustrophobically busy synth work. He sings “It’s only water’s edge, it’s only formless ice, it never melts, it’s never broken.” The lines evoke for me Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle with its doomsday invention Ice-nine, an allusion made all the stronger by how the song resonates with the book’s post-apocalyptic melancholy.
Through its oblique lyrics and sidelong deconstruction of pop music, this album reminds me of Brian Eno’s early records like Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy. Arthur Russell’s mutant disco comes to mind as well, but Russell’s giddy romanticism is replaced with Body’s cryptic bleakness. He sounds a bit like Brian Wilson in the multitracked choir at the end of “Tear It Down,” but it’s the nervous breakdown living room sandbox Brian, not “Surfing USA” Brian. On “Pure Potency” he seems to have stolen the best bits of Toto’s “Africa” and rearranged them them into something more subtle, creepy and appealing.
What he’s trying to say in the songs of Aquarian Nightmare stays just out of reach—tantalizing and obscure. “Pure Potency” has this line — “There was a pointlessness that I’ve been chasing since” — and it’s a riddle. Maybe he’s talking about something both purposeless and desirable? That’s actually a pretty good definition of music itself.