Flavorwire Premiere: Low Fem Mines the Sad Erotics of “City Life”

Brooklyn-based duo Low Fem’s first two songs, which Flavorwire is lucky enough to premiere (for they are, full disclosure, friends of Flavorwire), begin sweetly, unassumingly. In “I Will Be There,” the soft androgyny of lead singer Max Silver’s vocals invites you in, as minimal electronic thwacks (via multi-instrumentalist Lucas Segall) punctuate his crooning. Abruptly, Silver’s voice jolts you with throaty madness, then lures you, dizzied, back down a honey-coated path of anonymous devotion (“I will be there/No, you don’t even know my name”). With controlled waves of synth and a drum machine evoking an animal skittering into the unknowns of an urban forest, the sugared smallness of this song’s individual parts gather into a sad, vast emotional cityscape.

Meanwhile, on “City Life,” with an alluring and jarring timbre evoking Arthur Russell, a frog, some phlegm, and Renee Fleming all shoved down one man’s throat, Silver deadpans, “Cities are depressing in the most erotic way.” (A lyric that Silver describes as a flipped misremembering of a line in Donald Barthelme’s “City Life” — originally, “Cities are erotic, in a depressing way.”) 

It’s another song whose early moments serve as a bit of a foil for what’s to come. Here, at first, bass, xylophone, and infirm percussion suggest Muzak, until the vocals begin punching out flirtations and sarcastic observations (“Terrestrial astronomy/God bless the free economy”), and the chorus fuses those components in a glistening haze of a climax. 

With their penchant for diminutive synthesized noises and vocals that withhold until they loopily purge, Low Fem channels a contemporary pairing of gentle intimacy and furious vocal transience. A motif of finance pervades their non-love-songs, which Silver has dubbed “econodisco.” Their lyrics evince a queer take on Marxian alienation, as these songs lull with affectionate proclamations of estrangement, and a sonic evocation of pathetic ecstasy.

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