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Review: Merge – S/T

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“Nobody wants to hear the record that you make for everybody else. They want to hear the record you make for you. You just have to hope that it relates to other people because if you start trying to second-guess what people want, you are doing you or your fans or anybody else who listens to your songs a disservice.” – Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, Metro Boston

So, I have a personal question for artists: how the hell do people write about depression so easily? How is there even “good” songs about anxiety and depression?

I’m currently at a point in my life where writing music about situational depression, moments of anxiety or anything like it feels hard because how the hell do you make fear, anxiety, trauma, anger, shyness, how do you make it sound good in your head? How do you listen to the music in your head and make it sound worth listening to? This is one of the reason why having depression is not a thing that anyone wants, and that includes musicmakers of all walks of life. It’s a numbness that people want nothing more than to shake themselves out of, but people like Lil Peep manage to pull hits from it every single time.

MERGE is the sound of Spartan Jet-Plex’s Nancy Kells and Berko Lover (aka Tiaira Harris) banding together to shake their own inner discomfort on record, be it inside or outside, and your feelings towards it depends a lot upon your feelings upon facing the dark and tense. All I know is their approach isn’t really to expose the ugly, but to let delicacy rule the album.

MERGE introduces two styles that also manages to present a purpose to them, and given what they do individually, you would be under the impression that it wouldn’t work out so well. After all, Nancy is known as the ambient folk project Spartan Jet Plex and Berko is most known as Elite Hunters’ most fearless, fun-loving and sex-positive spitter. On MERGE, Berko keeps her rhymes to a minimum and lets her soul do the singing with Nancy. Berko’s singing, no matter the emotions, is almost shamanistic, vulnerable. You feel her when she is having a lot of fun, you feel her when she is drunk as shit, and you can surely feel her when she is trying to emerge out of a period of spiritual discomfort. Mantras such as “baby be strong” (whether she sings to herself or a lover) and “please take it easy on me” appear as if she is singing towards you or towards her demons. Songs like “STFU” feel like a prayer all on its own over Nancy’s hushed/choir-esque and ambient singing.

As for Nancy’s singing, she knows when to come out and expose her poppy side or when to provide a spellbinding, ambient backtrack. If Godless Goddess doesn’t prove anything, it is that she is slowly coming into her own as a pop songwriter where ambience would likely cloud her. “Thunder” opens nicely as a track where Nancy is her most embracing of her pop side. Though, “Thunder” is also probably the one track that (perhaps intentionally?) exposes that stylistic disconnect between Nancy and Berko, one that gets easily rectified through “Free All”, where Berko provides the ghostly vocals until the last few minutes.

Speaking of “Free All”, my initial thought of the track when released upon the 2nd Friends For Equality compilation was that it was about the freedom of all people within our country, but within the context of the album, its feels more like it is a freeing of all of their burdens. A plea for people to use music to open up their darkest sides for the sake of their soul. Through the song, even as a last song, the switch from Nancy over to Berko is like a switch from what may be a painful vulnerability to, if not spiritual freedom, but a disposing of what negativity had been plaguing you so far.

Elsewhere, both of them know when it is a perfect time to take over and when is a good time to dip out, and the album, as a result, eschews genre and winds up being its most spiritual. Delicate, even. Shifting from ambient folk to trap&B (the pillow-soft “Loser”) to glints of hip-hop (“Move Me”), MERGE brings forth an album as open-hearted as it is introverted that they hope is as much a salve to listen to as it was for them to make. And you can’t help but both bless and envy them at once for it.


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