Philadelphia-based duo SCRAAATCH (lawd knows / chukwumaa and MHYSA / E. Jane), have toured and developed their sound for years. This has culminated into TEARDROPS, their debut EP, which opens a meditative space to think about vulnerability in the club.
I want to make few points. First: despite being built on the circulation of Black content, clubs in America, like America itself, are not safe for Black people. Second: the club can be reclaimed as a space for intimacy. As such, nightlife acts as a frame here to engage Black interiority and abstract cognitive space: each track of the album maps different affective landscapes.
On the opener, live electronics careen against MHYSA’s haunting, echo-laden vocals. A banal soundcheck becomes a mystical, evocative, with jittery high-pitched sounds jutting in and out like mischievous spirits. There is an overall texture of anxiety from a parallel universe version of yourself affecting you now. SCRAAATCH’S DJ sets are not solely beatmatched playlists, but living sound collages; and their live performances never reject curation, citation, and functionality.
Cover photo: Elliott Jerome Brown, Jr.
Defiant banger “DON’T TALK TO ME” features a catchy demand for autonomy and personal space (“Don’t talk to me / I’m here to dance… I didn’t ask for your company / I’m just here to dance”). In order for clubs to be safe and fun, this demand must be taken seriously. If you can’t isolate yourself and meditate in the club, then you can’t truly connect to anyone. Without space for both, social interaction feels forced (“I been working hard for you…”). The central motif is a 4:3 polyrhythm truncated by a final hit that lands on the fourth beat. This makes it gallop, always on the brink of launching into the polyrhythm.
The song “ARTICLES” is a pointillistic collage of various artists singing “a” and “the” the articles of English. Surrounding words, background music, and sound manipulation color the timbre of each sample. The definiteness of language’s surface gives way, revealing the scintillating void at its center. “ARTICLES” is also a paean to Black orality: working with articles as material is reverence, an acknowledgment that even these tiny words contain cultural history, and are worlds unto themselves.
“The lithe,” an emo title track pairs a driving 808 with an airy sample from the introspective ballad “Portrait” (2018) by Mariah Carey (“I won’t let the teardrops spill tonight”). There’s a refined yet addictive quality to it’s lushness precisely by being so minimal. It’s that moment when you’re trying to forget everything and let vibrations take over, but reality floods back in. You want to cry, and do, but it’s mixed with sweat.
Image courtesy the artists, Rhizome, and the New Museum.
On the spacey closer, an edit of 6LACK & Jhené Aiko’s “First Fuck” (2017), the airy, chirruping weirdness of Singawd’s original beat underscores whining live electronics with two central timbres: a crunchy organ or reverb-soaked bell, and later a siren-like sound joined by clicks and ringing. The tension between the sampled loop and the electronics evokes closing hour, the weird comedown of leaving the club. The tension on TEARDROPS never resolves.
This debut album is a short offering, but already low key a classic, and speaks to SCRAATCH’s years of honing their sound and concept. Their live act is raucous, teeming with bombs, sirens and other ‘noise’, drawing out the musicality in them while also teasing out the noise in music. Similarly, they pair the demand for experimentalism in the club with the demand to reclaim the club as a space for Black vulnerability and abstract interior space: these two are inseparable.