Helena Hauff Tears Off Our Useless Armor on ‘Discreet Desires’

Cover for Helena Hauff's Discreet Desires LP. Photo Credit: Werkdiscs/Ninja Tune.
Cover for Helena Hauff’s Discreet Desires LP. Photo Credit: Werkdiscs/Ninja Tune.

Somewhere around here is an empty room. There’s not much light in it, and not much ventilation. The walls are rough and made of worn brick.

The whole thing is dirty, but not in an offensive or deterrent sort-of way. There’s just enough to make someone notice a dull sheen from the dust on their hands.

Each step you take, feels important — from the moment you emerge through the threshold’s barely-functioning door to the point when you reach that middle area that seems like the most comfortable spot to stand. However, that feeling doesn’t carry with it any sort of pressure. It’s just nice to know that there’s meaning to something.

George Orwell wrote in Burmese Days that “we sell our souls in public and buy them back in private,” which is resonant in this space. Out there, we adorn our armor. We try to survive in a world in which everything feels, at best, like a carefully managed public-relations campaign. But in here, in this imperfect room, we find solace in sheer authenticity.

What’s the point of all of this? Well, I’ve listened to techno producer Helena Hauff’s latest LP, Discreet Desires, about 12 times since Werkdiscs/Ninja Tune released it two weeks ago, and I’m concurrently in love with and intimidated by the record.

Discreet Desires puts me in that room. Maybe it embodies that room. Or, at the very least, it’s what’s playing when I’m in it. And I don’t know what to do with myself now.

I’ve listened to the record in a bunch of different settings, sometimes walking around various neighborhoods in New York, or riding the subway, or even just sitting at home in my apartment in Harlem. Regardless of the setting, each time I listen to the record in full — and it’s always in full — I feel like my veneer is rubbed raw right off me.

The album’s 10 gorgeously dark, analogue pieces have an intensely ancient quality about them.

Some of that is because she’s employing a family of classic Rolands, such as TR-808, TR-707, Juno-60, and Alpha Juno 2. They can be heavy and rough. But that’s not all of it, because plenty of people can use (and have used) each of those instruments in ways that eschew any organic traits.

In Hauff’s hands, though, those tools craft an engaging and somewhat treacherous set of songs that present an impassioned view of the fire that surges at the core of each and every person.

On any one of the record’s cuts, such as “Piece of Pleasure,” “Spur,” “L’homme mort,” and “Funereal Morality,” Hauff all but commands us to embrace that fire and let it burn off the marzipan we sculpt onto ourselves every day in order to deal with the world.

It’ll be fine, though. We’ll survive. Hell, we’ll thrive. Everyone will function better if everyone else knows what we want out of life. At the very least, if we all drop that sweet outer shell and get a little dirty we’ll have more fun.

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