In biology, a ‘spandrel’ refers to a part of the body that has no observable function, a perfunctory excess that exists as a byproduct of evolution. It’s in this excess, this dead weight, that Athens art pop artist Evita Manji finds the conceptual core of their debut album, Spandrel? Arriving three years after the rapid fire, chrome plated bounce of their Neptune EP, Spandrel? is a bit of a departure for Manji. For starters, their voice becomes a central and essential instrument. Though it’s the shift in tonality that is most pertinent on Spandrel?, for all accounts a baroque pop album stitched together from fragments of industrial ambient, rave, and the sort of decaying bass music that Manji’s partner, the late SOPHIE, was instrumental in establishing. This turn toward darkness underpins the sort of musings Manji explores on Spandrel?. This is very much an album about mourning, in all its facets, and the weight of existence itself. After losing SOPHIE, Manji would soon endure watching their home Athens be engulfed in flames following rampant fires last year, and the residual smog of both these experiences finds its way into the DNA of Spandrel?.
Fire, in particular, becomes a powerful leitmotif. On Oil/Too Much, a commentary on the oil industry, Manji intoning the process of their own entropy. “You’re burning my insides,” they sigh, drowning in a sea of atmospheric rave synths and razor sharp industrial breaks. Similarly, against throbbing bass and a beat reminiscent of 2000’s R&B, Manji laments from the perspective of lungs on fire in a burning body. These morbid and morose explorations are handled with an alarming gentleness, with Manji proposing not to fight the inevitable end, but accept it with grace. The result is often strikingly beautiful, albeit violent. On Pitch Black, abysmal bass and Gregorian melodies fuse on a meditation on death and grief, the depths of Manji’s bass matching the depths of their despair. Body/Prison sees Manji at their most confessional, juxtaposed with the manic rush of trance synths and monstrous industrial beats; the body consuming itself in order to escape itself.
Download and stream Spandrel? here
The overall experience of Spandrel? is a heavy one. These are songs rooted in an existential nihilism. They play out like someone’s last words before their demise, balanced with a curiously fierce dance music palette, the contrast of which only strengthens Spandrel?’s impressive emotional power. The album is both typical of the sort of macabre experimentations favoured by PAN, but also a new territory for the label by virtue of the album’s pop direction. As slow burning as it is urgent, Spandrel? works in big, contrasting strokes that on Manji’s part, displays a delicious audacity and tenacity. Their choices are bold, and unapologetic. In this sense, it’s a triumph of a debut, one which signals Manji’s arrival as a distinct and potent new voice in art pop and left of centre electronica.
Listen to Oil/Too Much from Spandrel? below.
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Evita Manji – Spandrel?