You’ve probably heard the music of Drum & Lace — who released her compelling Midnight Roses EP today — without even realizing it. Her brand of sonic experimentation is all over mixed media and, if this world is capable of providing truly good things, we’ll be hearing her even more going forward.
Specifically, the LA-based composer (AKA Sofia Hultquist) has contributed her ornate, beat-heavy, pop-infused, ambient electronic experiments to films such as the Met Costume Institute’s The First Monday in May or Hollywood flick My Blind Brother; plays such as The House Itself Does Not Burn; and am impressive array of fashion videos. (Check out “Artifacts.” Just do it. You’ll be pleased.)
But when she’s not doing commissioned work, she’s also synthesizing her various modalities into tightly-packed and memorable EPs. Standouts from the past include “Night Skate” from Dark Nights & Neon Lights and “Rounders” from The Giving & the Taking.
This time around on Midnight Roses, the essence of Hultquist’s style pervades, but she layers on some additional qualities that darken the tapestry while concurrently upping the stakes. The compositions are usually cinematic, often danceable, and always compelling. Because there are only four cuts, I’ll be reviewing them all.
“Tempest” is a great opener for this release, because it hits the ground running with a tension that seethes throughout the collection, making for a feature-film length’s worth of suspense over the course of a 17-minute EP. This is clearly a dark place we’re in, but will it always be this way?
It’s an inherently electronic song that nevertheless achieves the goal of sounding orchestral and organic. The synths fly around over the skittering beat in such a way: up and down the scale, buzzing and bending, repeating themes at perfect times, all with the support of dissonant legato notes and cinematic string expressions. I can’t see how this won’t serve as the opening cue for some future project.
Next up is “Parisian Nights.” This cut, also instrumental, struts along with a reliable banger of a kick that’s interspersed with breakbeat-esque drum fills and flourishes. Over this are spectral synth arpeggiations that autonomously achieve great heights as easily as they stick firmly to the rhythm like a strong adhesive.
Prominent atop that is a gorgeous and noirish minor-chord (I think!) melody with a strong ability to imprint itself in the listener’s long-term memory. In certain ways, this cut presents itself like a more organic iteration of a cue off Cliff Martinez’s The Neon Demon score.
The second half of Midnight Roses is where Hultquist starts singing. On “Abysso,” the single, Hultquist manipulates her skilled vocal stylings to match the darkly cinematic nature of the cut’s underpinnings. A malfunctioning beat sits below yearning and dissonant synth strings, some ambient noise, and intense synth arpeggiations. The result is a piece that’s simultaneously intimate and massive. And catchy. It’s like Conatus-era Zola Jesus in each genuflection to the sacredness of sound, albeit with the frenetic soul of our new world order. Abysso, indeed. Abyssum hoc est.
The EP closes with the aptly named “Sunrise.” This is a good thing, because it signifies there’s a sense of hope — if not present, it’s afoot. Don’t get me wrong, though, this is still a dark cut. It’s a driving, distorted, slightly-bit-crushed, and somewhat dark way to bring about the light, and it works so very well.
Like a good student of the upper grades of the School of Seven Bells, Hultquist pairs the better angels of rock theatrics and electronic personality. She has big synths, shimmering and fuzzy guitars, and steady and expressive drums with big, percussive splashes. To complete the package are her comforting mantras: Her voice peppers throughout the piece some uncertain questions uttered with an air of firm confidence and a complete understanding of the most crucial unknowns.
Overall, “Sunrise” is a big — but not grandiose — pronouncement that is an entirely appropriate and welcome way to end the EP. And true to her nature as an experimental artist of ambient sounds, Hultquist leaves us with a steady wash of raindrops. Whether a field recording or merely some patch, it provides a welcome dose of ablution to prepare us to return to “Tempest” and start this whole meditation over again.
If her last name sounds familiar, it’s because her husband is also a musician and composer (and they often collaborate). His name is Ian Hultquist and he was in Passion Pit from 2007-2014. He currently runs Little Twig Records, on which he recently released his score for Netflix film Clinical.