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Heatsick - Intersex

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Artist: Heatsick

Album: Intersex

Label: Pan

Review date: Jan. 12, 2012

One thing about Intersex is clear: ambiguity. The album’s very essence is a lack of definition: the neologism of the album title, the way song names hover just out of comprehension, how the music slides from lo-fi sampling and sleazy neon dance floor to 1970s-style DIY synthesis and impenetrable sound poetry. On the surface, the album seems to be an essay on transgender ideas, but a lot more than gender bending is going on. Steven Warwick, the person behind the moniker, is proposing gender ambiguity as a stand-in for a more general state of in-betweeness, a quest for genuine experimentation, social as well as musical.

To this end, Warwick keeps his tools limited — a busted Casio keyboard and a few guitar pedals. The limitations only seem to liberate Warwick, however. When you can only do so much, you keep things simple. It’s why on “Tertiary” he settles for just the rhythmic exo-skeleton of what could be an Arthur Russell tune, then lathers on greasy, elliptical layers that deny any sort of center. “Ice Cream on Concrete” ups the tempo and adds a deeper bass groove, but keeps the template the same.

Those two pieces alone might have made for a great left-of-center club 12”, but Warwick ups the ante with “Vom Anderen Ufer”. No beats and no obvious riffs here, just woozy keyboard and vocal loops that never coalesce where you think they will. It peaks in a dense emergency wail of sliding tones, spinning arpeggios and multiple tempos, but then ends up in a vocal collage, intoning something about “gay music.” The phrases are so cut up and looped that you’re never sure what the message is, but you’re taken by it all the same.

And yet, do not mistake uncertainty for fuzzy thinking. On Intersex, Steven Warwick is exploring sonics as vehicles for transforming the self, as ways of reaching psychic states that we can’t verbalize. As these sonics get their drive from the dance floor, Warwick is sneaking this heady concept in through a backdoor. It’s enlightenment through hedonism.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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