For the past decade, under a seemingly endless list of names, Chicago experimentalist Angel Marcloid has spread her tendrils across vast stretches of the world of noise and electronic music. Her diverse sonic identities—the hazily fluid, manipulated new-age sounds of Mindspring Memories, the more unsettling work she does under her own name or as Pregnant Spore—intersect but rarely significantly overlap. With a distinctive retrofuturistic aesthetic (which predates the vaporwave craze) that she fuses with a modern reinterpretation of older styles, Marcloid has carved out her own place in experimental music without rendering herself inaccessible to curious listeners. Her name has been passed around in the underground for years, but now her profile is rising—and she’s prepared to make an even bigger impact. One of her most disorienting and personal projects, Fire-Toolz, will release the cassette Drip Mental through Hausu Mountain on Friday, February 24, and the whole album is already streaming. (If you buy it digitally today—Friday, February 3—Bandcamp will donate its share of the proceeds to the ACLU.)
Identifying the influences and reference points on Drip Mental is exhausting—the only real constant is an “anything goes” approach to sonic collage, which combines genres as diverse as musique concrete, electro-pop, and extreme metal circa 2000. Fire-Toolz feels like Marcloid’s way of processing all her inspirations and passions as directly as possible. “[Fire-Toolz] is a means for creating and expressing anything I want in the style of electronically focused music,” she says. “I pack everything I am, everything I can, inside of it. Tightly, intricately stacked and layered, and almost always overpolished.”
The album’s precision of assembly and crispness of sound keep the songs from feeling overly heady or outright obnoxious, even as they simulate the experience of flipping through channels in your head. The tones are often sterile and digitized, but because Marcloid is self-aware about her aesthetic choices, she can use them to connect her audience to the human experiences at the core of the chaos. This makes songs such as “Relevant Shambala Texts [CODENAME_INITIAL TOUCH LOCATION]” feel less jumbled and more like journeys through the Soulseek download folders and AIM chat logs of a stoned teenager who’s looking for solace via immersion in music.
On first exposure Fire-Toolz seems chaotic, but over the course of an album it offers more comfort and security than it does clutter. “Busy Beaver Lunch Break [CODENAME_SPOTLIGHT SEARCH]” opens with a drifting ambient patchwork that’s almost enough to lull you into calmness, but around the four-minute mark a murky, stomping beat begins to build, only to lead into a sample of Dillinger Escape Plan’s most famous song (you’ll know it when you hear it). It’s a sort of personal journey through broken and rearranged sound—a self-portrait of the artist and the world in which she chooses to live.
The music and its presentation are extensions of Marcloid herself—a document of the process of self-documentation. “My whole life I regarded making music as a passion,” she says. “It’s what I was told it was. I’m learning it’s more of an obsession, maybe even an addiction. I’m a pretty emotional person, definitely an empath, and my brain is the birthplace of more ideas than I could ever remember, let alone execute. There are constantly brewing ideas inside of me, even in the most inappropriate of situations.” This anxiously bubbling, compulsive energy shines from every corner of Drip Mental, as well as from Marcloid’s previous album as Fire-Toolz, Even the Files Won’t Touch You. The drive to create and to catalog one’s thoughts is as maddening as it is empowering, and Fire-Toolz captures this uncertainty brilliantly.
With the final track on Drip Mental, “? [CODENAME_AUTO-BRIGHTNESS],” Marcloid underlines what’s most uplifting about her work—with its sound and title, she poses a challenge to herself and offers a potential mission statement for future output. By culminating with this song’s oddly soothing melodies, the album reaffirms Marcloid’s commitment to stay uniquely herself but also open and inviting to new listeners. In a world of stress and doubt, the unexpected catharsis of Drip Mental is more than welcome.