On Death Is Home, Aïsha Devi arrives with the clearest and most distinct version of her sound yet. Defined by a sense of gothic scale and darkness, it’s rave music with a brain and a heart—for lone adventurers rather than big rooms. To understand it, one must take Devi’s entire discography into consideration: As Kate Wax, she made cloudy dance-pop—music that could have been dismissed as airy and transitory yet carried a strange and sometimes clunky heft. In 2014, the Swiss-Nepalese/Tibetan artist began releasing music under her own name, ditching the alter ego for a more avant-garde vision. She also began interweaving her meditation and spiritual practices into her production and performance. (Much ink has been spilled on the dancefloor as a space for potential healing; Devi appears to take this approach genuinely.)
DNA Feelings (2018) was a disorienting, minimalist affair that placed Devi’s heavily processed vocals against pristine, icy sound design. Hard to grasp and even harder to dance to, it’s a challenging but rewarding listen that demands patience and careful attention—Pauline Oliveros for the clubland set. Death Is Home is her first LP since then, and first new music since 2019’s S.L.F. EP, which married Devi’s earlier predilection for pop with DNA Feelings’ abstract map. Opener “Not Defined by the Visible” turns the rave build into a dizzying spiral staircase, the kind everyone expects to resolve into a reliable drop and attendant emotional payoff. In Devi’s version, it becomes delicate architecture, refusing obvious catharsis for a sense of vertigo.
Devi is an expert at building tension; a sense of foreboding lurked even in DNA Feelings’ relatively weightless palette. On Death Is Home she pushes that tendency as far as it will go, creating cavernous environments with such a restrained hand that when stabbed with squeaky synths and ruptured with dry, piercing kicks, as on “Lick Your Wounds,” they suggest the score for a sci-fi/body horror flick. “Immortelle” is just gorgeous, scribbly trance synths and ominous ambience anchoring Devi’s alien-frequency vocals. Visionary Kenyan club experimentalist Slikback helps the thrilling “Dimensional Spleen,” with its twinkling synth line and straight-to-the-hips bass, become the most accessible work of Devi’s recent career, though the track is no less thoughtfully constructed than anything on DNA Feelings.
At times Devi sounds as if she’s playing with the new age tropes of a particular kind of ’90s mainstream electronica, digging through the cheese to find something true. The celestial bells of “Mind Era” and fluted synths of “The 7th Element” wouldn’t be out of place on Pure Moods. The references feel loving—new age was music for seekers and meditators, just as Devi’s is—but she can’t resist messing with the program, processing her vocals beyond recognition and screwing up the song structures. “Prophet Club” is a lovely slice of futuristic R&B. Closer “Azoth Eyes” is a true stunner, showing that Devi is as adept with percussion-heavy work as she is with airier fare. She sets gauzy layers of fluttering vocals against thick, ominous ambience and crushing, distorted beats, creating an atmosphere that works on and within the physical body.
As Devi’s work has become inextricable from her spiritual practices, it’s clear that embodiment is key to her work. We are all aware that stress and trauma live in our bodies in unconscious ways. Grief and pain do communicate through Death Is Home’s textures, as does the undergirding sense of hope necessary to heal. But perhaps most notably, Devi’s own artistic voice sounds more developed than ever. In the process of healing, we become more ourselves, steadier on our feet and with an arsenal of practices and tools available to weather coming storms. Hearing Devi hone her vocabulary to this degree is proof enough of work.
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