Issue #94: Technophelia by Geneva Jacuzzi

December 11, 2017

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Technophelia by Geneva Jacuzzi
Released On February 5, 2016
Released By Medical Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By David Munro

“One ticket for the Nite Jewel show, please.”

I stood at the counter of The Record Exchange, the resident music lover’s paradise here in Boise, ID.

“No problem. Hey, have you heard of the opener, Geneva Jacuzzi, at all?” the cashier asked.

“Nope, haven’t listened to anything of hers, really,” I replied.

“You have to look her up, she’s amazing,” he told me.

And so, with my interest piqued, I went home and promptly watched a number of bizarre, mildly disconcerting music videos, listened to the accompanying music, and read a couple interviews Geneva had given over the last few years. I didn’t really know what to make of it, and I wasn’t totally sure I liked it, either. The music wasn’t particularly catchy, the visuals were deliberately off-putting, and the lyrics were bordering on nonsensical. There was much written about the outlandish spectacle of her live show, so I decided I’d leave my research there and hope that maybe I’d enjoy what I saw later that evening, that it might make more sense later.

A number of hours later, I stood on the floor of the dimly lit Neurolux watching a plastic bubble inflate. Once fully inflated, Geneva Jacuzzi entered her plastic bubble and subsequently delivered about half of her set from inside the translucent sphere wearing a skintight bodysuit and singing into a handless mic, looking like a bizarro-world version of a pop star. It was just as strange and obtuse as those videos, but something about seeing it in person, with Geneva performing her choreographed dance moves, singing some songs with a handheld light she pointed both at herself and the audience, grinning (somewhat maniacally), and clearly having a blast — perhaps it wasn’t really supposed to “make sense,” but if you gave up trying to make Geneva Jacuzzi fit into an easily digestible box, making sense suddenly seemed quite passé.

Technophelia, Geneva Jacuzzi’s second album, is a record of synthwave (the new wave sub-genre with primarily electronic sounds) pop songs that are kinda catchy, yet hold the listener at arms’ length. It’s clearly a deliberate choice, this pushing away of the audience, but it’s not done in an attempt to be difficult or highbrow. Geneva’s music is littered with the repurposed technological detritus of the modern world, and she uses these ideas to twist reality into a world of her own. The ways in which she expresses her ideas, with her penchant for talking about things in unconventional, obtuse manner leads to a subtle, ubiquitous discomfort if one tries too hard to figure it out. It’s a bit like a musical version of the uncanny valley. Everything is almost right — until you notice it’s all a little too synthetic, that something is not quite right…

Casket” mixes in dial tones, ringing phones, pieces of random conversations, all as she sings of talking from the titular casket. “God Maker” throws in animal noises. “One Colored Rooms” might be my favorite little song here. Geneva sings of wanting to “walk through one colored rooms with you”, repeating a few lyrics over and over — though she alters words here and there until the songs becomes something of a mad libs-esque word salad. It’s baffling and bizarre, but it’s also hypnotic and alluring in its defiance of convention. “Cannibal Babies” is the catchiest, most immediately appealing song here, but Geneva’s lyrical double entendre mixes gruesome cannibalism and sexual innuendo in a feat of unsettling genius. “I’m A TV” also mixes technology and sex, Geneva repeating “I’m a TV / Turn me on” as voices moan in the background alluringly, questioningly, even comically? “Macho Island” is a beautiful outlier, a quieter, softer synthpop ballad quite different from anything else on the album.

With Technophelia, Geneva Jacuzzi eschews traditional narrative for an artistic statement not so easily explained. Considering ideas about the intersection of technology, love, sex, death, identity, and power without ever giving the listener what they’re expecting, it’s a bold, defiant statement that flies in the face of conventional lyricism. Don’t think too hard about whether the words all line up in a correct sentence, and let the lines and synths happen. One listener left a comment on the album’s Bandcamp page, saying, “I like songs that have ringing phones.” Another said, “Dark, sexy and fun!”

Sounds like a good time to me.

David Munro (@david_c_munro)
Idiosyncratic Avant-Garde Wanderer

Geneva “Geneva Jacuzzi” Garvin, a galvanic force within LA’s underground music and art scene.

I don’t go to art exhibits very often (I mean, I go to museums every now and then, but in the last seven years I think I’ve only gone to an art gallery to see works by up-and-coming artists once), but I imagine that Geneva Jacuzzi’s Technophelia would make for a really good soundtrack when visiting one. The type of exhibit that I have in mind would be the kind that features a wide variety of installations, ranging from interactive pieces to ones with an emphasis on sensory overload (not necessarily including taste, but involving the other four primary senses), and even optical ones that require at least a double take to fully sink in. Maybe I’m just projecting based on my personal beliefs about artsy stereotypes, but listening to Technophelia, I find a lot of similarities to what I think of when I think of a late 1990s SoHo Bohemian. Barely 90 seconds into the album, right as the intro (aptly titled “Technophelia (Intro)”) starts to kick into gear, the album presents a fake out and falls silent. That’s a bold move to start off an album with, but Geneva Jacuzzi takes that risk anyway. The audio collage of “Casket” layers a dance floor anthem with a ringing telephone, one side of a phone conversation, and a dial-up operator, and its repurposing of old technology rings of Artist with a capital A. Even the more subdued tracks, like “Macho Island,” are buried in layers of vocals and electronic sounds that would add a lush atmosphere to sitting in a room full of moving paintings. Like I said before, I don’t often go to modern art galleries, but the next time I do go, I’ll have to queue up Technophelia beforehand.

Dustin Gates (@cmoncheermeup)
Relapsed Pop Culture Junkie

Heavily shrouded vocals clash against electric pop beats, swirled with the unexpected of colors, animal sounds, startling lyrics. While the record at times sounding like the pre-recorded tracks of a kid’s keyboard, there are these other moments where I think I’m listening to some hoodwinking genius, laughing at me in the background for trying to overthink this album. Let it be fun screams the album, electric beats snapping at a hip-shaking pace, only in the next minute comes a dark twist, a drink splashed in the face of a dancer on the club floor. Lost in the halls of this album, I wanted to forget my name, press a finger against your mouth before you could tell me yours. Dark and synthetic, nylon rug burn on the backs of thighs, Technophilia pulls down your body, forcing you to move, forcing the kind of dance your mother warned you about. If the ancient Greeks preserved certain beats for war times, then this is surely a modern equivalent kept specially for gyrating into spontaneous nights with strangers in dark corners.

Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite

I have two reference points for European Techno that should convey my level of understanding of the genre. First is the classic Saturday Night Live sketch Sprockets, in which a just-before-his-peak Mike Myers plays a depressed, snotty, ultra-hip, semi-goth, semi-futurist talk show host named Dieter. On his show he asks his guests if they would like to “pet [his] monkey” (which is a live money sitting just off camera), and every sketch ends without he line “and now is the time on Sprockets where we dance!” Cue techno music and odd, spastic dancing in black turtlenecks. The other reference is Kraftwerk — no explanation needed. As a matter of fact, some of the hallmarks of this album took me back to Kraftwerk. For instance, the general vibe of “I’m A TV,” or the minimalist production and sparse synth patches of “Casket” put me right back in 1983 Berlin. But I have to say that I felt the most at home on the album closer “Swanface,” which instantly won me over by employing the same classic drums as Run-DMC’s iconic “Sucker MC’s.” Wait, is Euro-Techno the next weird world for Kanye West? I feel like he’s actually said the words “Geneva Jacuzzi” in a rhyme before. Anyway, now is the time on OYR where we dance!

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

Click here to watch the peculiar video for “Cannibal Babies.”

Offering cringes in both the natural and synthetic variety.

There is an oft-repeated quote attributed to Brian Eno that states that everyone who bought The Velvet Underground’s debut LP (30,000 people in the first five years of release) started a band. What I’ve been thinking about lately is how much more interesting it would be to share a similar statement about some of my favorite punk/new wave female artists, like X-Ray Spex and Lene Lovich (see Issue #67). I would guess that their influence has never really gone away, I can hear in current artists as diverse as Zola Jesus, Blood Orange, and this week’s selection, Geneva Jacuzzi. Technophelia is a fascinating record, combining mostly flat, unemotional vocals with melodic synths and layers of sound, including additional the always-welcome-to-me animal sounds on “God Maker.” It’s not an album I would necessarily put on when I wanted to dance or exercise — the music is too challenging for that. Challenging how, you might ask? While I have never seen her play live, GJ occupies this strange and interesting space between performance art and pop music. The catchiest song, called “Cannibal Babies,” of all things, features the line, “I would eat your face.” GJ has saidCasket” is about technology that allows one to communicate with the dead. The record is so good that even if there is some pretension hidden between the drum machine and the goth vocals, I didn’t notice it. Technophelia is an excellent choice to end our regular coverage on this year — it makes me excited to discover more new-to-me gems in 2018.

Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ

Even before I read the description on Geneva Jacuzzi’s Bandcamp page describing her music as “uncompromisingly obtuse synth-driven pop,” some other words beginning with “ob” had occurred to me. Obstinate, for one, and oblivious, for another. Such is her commitment to a Batcave-blackened kind of goth techno, that it really is as if the previous two-and-a-half decades had simply not occurred. I’m not really sure how synthesizers and programmed drums can express her deathless commitment to her cause, but it is almost instantly apparent that Jacuzzi ain’t playing. That’s not to say she doesn’t have a sense of humor, as songs like “Ark Of The Zombies” and “Cannibal Babies” (“Cannibals coming out / Of my sex,” — she is joking, right?) prove. She also has musical chops, sometimes developing rich counterpoint with her tinny keyboards, while always keeping things spare and minimal. My favorite songs might be “Macho Island,” one of her more sweetly melodic offerings, or the Kraftwerk homage of “I’m A TV,” but the whole album is consistently compelling. Whether you’re nostalgic for an earlier era of electronic music or could care less from where Geneva Jacuzzi is drawing her inspiration, you should get a charge from plugging into Technophaelia.

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

Geneva Jacuzzi’s electronica is wildly amorphous giving it the ability to coherently switch from caustic detachment to aggressive surrealism.

Despite being an album of only a year in age, Technophelia comes across largely like an homage to electronic and synth driven music of earlier decades and earlier sound styles — namely, the late 1970s and 1980s. Geneva Jacuzzi’s newest record touts curiosity piquing song titles like “Squid Hunter,” “Biogasms In Babyland,” and “One Colored Rooms,” which all give an almost modern art vibe and feel like titles one might expect to read in a Bjork or Lady Gaga album track list. The sense of older electronic tricks doesn’t come blazing out of the gate on the title intro track, making the thereafter abrupt shift feel that much more jarring. The intro sets the record up as one ready to boast minimalist electronica with enough reverb and variety of percussive sounds to make Jacuzzi look like a fan of modern, quieter, looping dub. This implication dissolves after an all-too-fast 40 seconds however, as the chime-like fluttering synth part that emerges in that same first track, sounds like the classic tonal pick for backing music to any ’80s horror film or perhaps the music played underneath an installment of Unsolved Mysteries. The latter impression only becomes heavier with the more rapid and higher pitched synthesizer that kicks off the second title track. Short attack and release electronic drums filling out the backbone of “Ark Of The Zombies,” combined with its own minor key slanted synthesizer hook again throws back to classic instrumentation of the ’80s and in the case of that song, it could go right in a playlist next to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and be a great neighboring track. “Squid Hunter” has an uptempo, synthesizer line pulsing throughout with very little note movement and, lower register vocals that mix together and elicit thoughts of Devo or maybe parts of Modern English’s “I Melt With You.” These are all very specific alignments that came to my mind and much of their existence comes either from specific tones chosen by Jacuzzi in her tracks, and-or from the vibe created by many of the songs that results from the collective blending of the sounds, tempo, tone, vocal style, and production aesthetic that encases the entire record. Technophilia is a colorful collage of sounds, drastic sonic effects, and a slightly surreal shaping thereof. Still, if explaining the album in a brief elevator pitch to friends: it’s a newer album with a hard crush on all things 1980s electronica. If that kind of a melodic, rhythmic, and engineering throwback sounds enticing, dive head first into Technophelia.

Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier

I’ll never understand folks who yell out requests at concerts. I had occasion to be perplexed in this way at Friday’s spectacular David Rawlings show at The National here in Richmond. Maybe you ask a bar band if they know a favorite tune, but part of the fun of being at a ticketed show is surrendering control and buckling up rollercoaster-style for whatever twists and turns the artist has planned. The same goes for high-concept albums — the ones where creativity is king and you’re not necessarily supposed to understand every little thing that happens. The liner notes on Bandcamp for Technophelia use the word “obtuse” to describe Geneva Jacuzzi’s work, and the shoe seems to fit. What’s the function of the near-minute-long silence in opening track “Technophelia (Intro)?” I have no earthly idea. What’s the symbolic meaning of monochromaticity in “One Colored Rooms?” Your guess is as good as mine. It’s a little like being Jeff Bridges and walking into Julianne Moore’s loft in The Big Lebowski: Maybe an artist is going to fly over your head while splattering paint. Maybe a bald guy is going to laugh at you for reasons that are never made clear. Lotta ins, lotta outs. Lotta of what-have-yous. I kept thinking about that loft while listening to Technophelia, imagining that it was the record Moore told Bridges to look for in her rack of LPs. Listen, I’m not saying that Geneva Jacuzzi chopped off Aimee Mann’s pinky toe as part of a convoluted kidnapping scheme. I’m just sayin’…

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

Much has been written about injecting heart into electronica — making the inorganic sound organic. It’s a talking point I personally make frequently about great art relying mostly on pre-programmed music, and as great as that feeling of emotionally connecting to a piece of software is, I think we’d be remiss not to recognize that the opposite can be just as striking. Geneva Jacuzzi seems to realize this, hardening the electronica feel of her music instead of softening it, lessening the emotion within her songs rather than growing it. That’s not to say this record is devoid of emotion though — even if that’s by design, it’s a callous thought proven untrue from the impish tendencies in songwriting (“Ark Of The Zombies“) and the general aloofness of the vocals (“Casket“). The emotions shown are just ones that we don’t easily praise in contemporary music, and Geneva Jacuzzi is showing just why that’s a shame. More broadly, this record led me to ponder the question that dominates so much of science fiction: Do machines have souls? What Technophelia does here is tell me yes, but it’s just not the type of soul or being we’re accustomed to. Put this record on though, and you’ll start to get familiar.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
Off Your Radar Guilty Pleasures
Featuring Selections From Each Contributor

Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Laura Burroughs, Erin Calvert, Catherine Dempsey, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Dustin Gates, Kira Grunenberg, Davy Jones, Melissa Koch, Chelsea Kostrey, David Munro, Drew Necci, & Jeremy Shatan

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