Sister Polygon Records
Olivia Neutron-John is the moniker under which Anna Nasty produces their unique version of electronic music, self-described as “post-bro”. This self-titled release is their first since 2014 and their first for Sister Polygon, though ON-J maintains a strong Bandcamp presence (Indeed, this new release can also be found on their Bandcamp). ON-J call this release their “first full-length”, but with 5 tracks coming in at just under 20 minutes it’s safe to call this an EP (in total it’s not even as long as the first track of Injury Train, their 2014 release).
In no uncertain terms, Olivia Neutron-John is a difficult listen. Like its predecessor Injury Train and I’m Never Getting Off / Vulnerability, ON-J is a jarring and sparse collection of Casio synth and 80s-tech drum loops over which are delivered a carefully weighed parcel of half-spoken/half-shrieked distorted vocals. Add in a deliberately plodding bass line à la Joy Division and the effect, especially combined with their visual aesthetics, screams that Olivia Neutron-John are capital-“a” Art. Thematically, the record focuses on ambiguity and the potential hollowness in getting what you wanted; the first single, “March”, opens “Is this love?/Is it what you want?”, an empty sentiment that echoes through to ON-J’s final, repeated “Joy… or…?” of the closing track.
That repetition is key to ON-J’s sound. The opening track, “16 Beat,” begins with a sharp single-note synth rhythm and slowly adds more layers – drum machine ticking out sixteenth notes, little burble synth floating above, and finally vocals – with none of it ever varying until it strips away in reverse at the end; there’s even a two minute reprise of the music halfway through the record. Going forward, it’s slower in tempo but no less forcefully repeated. There are no choruses, no bridges, just a base theme with added/subtracted motifs. It creates a feeling of off-kilter ennui; every new part added is exciting for a flashing moment but quickly settles back into the drone of repetition until even that is lost. Overall ON-J leaves you partially satisfied and slightly on edge – which is exactly what it’s trying to do.
Curiously, their music translates amazingly live. I saw them open for Rainer Maria (an odd pairing, indeed) in 2017 and was, frankly, blown away; something in the inescapable cacophony of the harsh synth and stalking bass just resonates despite feeling… off. It’s a difficult feeling to express, and it’s definitely high Art.
Pros – Holy fuck, it’s ART. ON-J doesn’t leave you in a safe space and challenges much of what the enjoyment of music even is.
Cons – Holy fuck, it’s ART. ON-J doesn’t leave you in a safe space and challenges much of what the enjoyment of music even is.
Bottom Line – You’ll either love this to death or hate it more than words can express. Listen to it, even if it’s just to find out why you hate it.