Zora Jones - Ten Billion Angels Music Album Reviews

Zora Jones - Ten Billion Angels Music Album Reviews
Channeling an eerily affecting cyborg tenderness, the Austrian producer and digital nomad writes post-club anthems that sound like pop hits from a parallel universe.

In a scene that typically moves at a relentless pace, Zora Jones is an artist of slow, microscopic precision. Before the pandemic shuttered nightclubs around the world, the Austrian-born DJ, producer, and visual artist was living a nomadic lifestyle with her partner and collaborator Sinjin Hawke, with whom she runs the audiovisual platform and label Fractal Fantasy. Like many touring electronic musicians, Jones writes tracks on her laptop while out on the road, taking advantage of downtime in between parties. Unlike many of her peers, however, Jones is notoriously strict about quality control. After first beginning to produce in 2010, she set herself the task of creating 100 original tracks before ever releasing one. This led to her debut EP, 100 Ladies, in 2015; five years (and a smattering of collaborative releases) later, those 100 ladies have evolved into Ten Billion Angels.
Ten Billion Angels builds on themes that Jones has been meticulously sculpting throughout those years—in particular, the combination of human emotion with futuristic, sci-fi stylings. This cyborg tenderness is reflected not only in pitch-shifted melodies and gut-punch kick drums but also in the LP’s accompanying artwork, which was inspired by CGI tentacle porn. Jones claims she was first drawn to 3D tentacle erotica because of “how obsessive the creators were”—perhaps she saw reflected in them a kind of perfectionism that she also applies to her music. But in addition to its intricate detail, the artwork mirrors the music in other ways: its glossy surfaces, its fluidity, and its seamless combination of the primal and the otherworldly.

Jones’ own voice forms the backbone of the record, spliced and contorted in a way she notes was inspired by AraabMuzik’s 2011 opus Electronic Dream. Jones is a master of wringing ten billion inflections out of a single sound (notably on her recent bootleg of Selena Gomez’ “Look at Her Now,” which amplifies the heartache of the original while erasing almost every lyric other than the word “down”). On lead single “Paranoid,” Jones repeats the titular refrain—“Paranoid, think I’m paranoid”—inside synth flourishes and tightly coiled drums that circle her like vultures, while on the vast “Sister’s Blade,” a single line of melody is repeated over and over, starting out as defiant and silky over scattergun synths before sinking slowly into a lower, more elegiac register.

That emotional double entendre is the strength of this LP, where numerous synonyms for “woman” pepper the tracklist: A “sister” on one track becomes a “bitch” on another and a “princess” on the next. While “Sister’s Blade” teeters ambiguously between aggressive and mournful, “Revenge of the Bitch” is Jones’ most explicit do-not-fuck-with-me moment, all sparse and serious drums. Elsewhere, the fearsome “Low Orbit Ion Cannon”—named for a kind of cyber attack—draws most explicitly on Jones’ love of footwork (she learned from the late, great DJ Rashad and has collaborated with Gary, Ind., experimentalist Jlin), building into a stream of controlled chaos at 160 beats per minute.

While these powerful outbursts are the most high-adrenaline moments, they’re in the minority on this record. Some tracks feel like alien ballads: “Come Home,” the Björk-adjacent closer, is a spectral chorus of voices, and “I Wanna Lose You” twists a would-be R&B hook into a ghostly smokescreen of SFX. Some of these sleepier compositions, particularly towards the end of the record, lose their impact, but others are so richly embodied that they feel like pop hits from a parallel universe. “Melancholy Princess” is a kind of duet between Jones and a bassline, her voice tremulous and sweet as she croons, “I want to feel you,” over the muscular instrumental. There’s a power play between her pitched-up vocal and the brutality of the track, just as there is within the bait-and-switch lyrics (“I’ll make you mine/ Have your way with me”) and even on the cover, where it’s hard to tell whether the female form is dominating or being dominated by the shapeshifting metallic liquid engulfing her. A similar dynamic echoes across the whole LP, as delicate melodies wrestle against chaotic production.

The beauty of Ten Billion Angels lies in its embrace of liminality and refusal to conform to one idea. This double sidedness fits into the broader context of Jones and Hawke’s self-described “post-genre” work together under the Fractal Fantasy banner, where dystopias can be utopian and club music can exist and expand far beyond the physical club. They recently debuted Virtua, their virtual reimagining of a club space which you can “tour” online. It’s an immersive, empty space with 3D projections beaming from every wall, built with no bar, the better to “foster potent communal experiences.” Walking virtually through it feels poignant, as the rooms seem to wait for the sweaty, messy reality of a dancing crowd. There’s both a sadness and a hopefulness in its vacancy. In Virtua as in Ten Billion Angels, even the darkest moment contains the potential for optimism—and there are endless new possibilities dancing on every elaborate, lovingly crafted surface.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Zora Jones - Ten Billion Angels Music Album Reviews Zora Jones - Ten Billion Angels Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, September 16, 2020 Rating:

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