FIELDED “Drip Drip” (Deathbomb Arc)

I tend to take in the music of Fielded like a detective takes in a case file. Every release by singer/producer Lindsay Powell is like a dossier, filled with disparate accounts that, if only arranged in the right light, could unravel the mystery. In her albums, Fielded vacillates between beauty and horror, at any given moment filling the role of the victim, witness and perpetuator—the object of another’s pleasure and subject of her own pleasure. But Fielded feels like more than a persona. With each release, Powell seems to be travelling psychically inward, slowly circling towards a traumatic kernel that provides the project its eroticism and terror.

It began for me with 2010’s Terrageist. Occult beasts stalk the sonic corners of that record, concealed by the oozing layers of Powell’s multitracked, multioctave voice. The LP contains a fold-out with inked sketches of these demons—chimeras of fur, teeth, and claws that lurk beside lyrics that are handwritten like desperate dispatches from another dimension. “Did he lay his hands upon you, with indifference? Did he soil her for pleasure, was he wanting it forever?” read the words to “Reason,” sprawling across the page. Listening to Terrageist transports me to Fielded’s own private Carcosa, or Black Lodge—a place of fantasy, somehow tethered to reality.

The gothic claustrophobia of Terrageist opens out in 2013’s Ninety Thirty Thirty, the first hint of Powell’s willingness to expand into pop territory. Sonic remnants of Terrageist persist, such as the distant bells, wailing wind, and close whispers of “My Hand, Meant Only for You,” but these moments are largely driven away by techno-pop sawtooth waves, arpeggiating synth bass lines, horn stabs, and saxophone solos. The lyrics, too, hover between light and darkness. “Chapel of Lies” dwells on unearthly horrors, and the titular protagonist in “Doctor” seems immediately sinister, as if one of the demons from Terrageist followed Fielded out, taking on human skin. Yet hints salvation appear in songs like “Arms of Heaven” and “Eve of a New Moon.” Ninety Thirty Thirty is ultimately an album that struggles with itself, and within that struggle, things still remain concealed. “Hold, stop. Let up the secret. Are all the secrets gonna drive you insane?” Powell sings in the “Gabrielle.” “Hold, stop. You couldn’t speak it, but I can feel it like a fire getting stronger each day.”

If Terrageist is about bondage, and Ninety Thirty Thirty about struggle, Drip Drip is about confrontation. There is no more mystery here—the secr¬ets are spoken with a crystal-clear testimony in the first minute of “Persephone (Intro)”: "I swear the kindness lies/'cause I see myself in the kindest eyes/but I keep seeing the devil between my thighs/wish I could shake that night." Over a dub-style backing track for the remainder of the song, Powell goes further: “I try again and again to be free and forgive myself/Try to remember to breathe that I’m fine and well/Try to remember to speak but to no avail/You are the one to blame/Your actions were louder than words and gave you away/And I have so much rage/Just wanna live to see a brighter day/release me.”
By the end of “Persephone (Intro),” Powell has expelled her demons—not so much to exorcise them, but to clinically examine their nature. The diagnosis, it seems, is male fragility. In the second track, “Baby Boys,” Powell exclaims “[You] wanted someone to sex you perplex you make you feel like you are an artist/man I’m just being honest.” It’s a lyric from a muse unchained, no longer able to silently tolerate the artist’s continual need for validation. Powell’s admonishment of the brittle male ego continues in “Fix Ya,” which takes on a more contemporary concern: “Rather see me through a screen/Addicted to catch-and-release/Does this satisfy you, Daddy?/Does it make you love me madly?” Considering the preference for mediated fantasy over the courageous embrace of reality (a symptom intensified by the digital age, creating bad hookups at best and incels at worst), Powell concludes with a shrug: “I wish I could fix ya.”

The exasperated ambivalence of “Fix Ya,” is countered by a more proactive, almost pedagogical approach to male fragility taken in “Drip, Drip,” a sex song of the “let’s take it slow” vein that takes on a deeper meaning when surrounded with the other tracks on the album. “We don’t need to be in love, we just need to be aligned,” Powell exclaims at the height of the otherwise subdued track. It’s an appeal that is quite literally the least one could ask for in a sexual encounter, a request so foundational it shouldn’t need to be articulated. But then again, we live in a time when sexually abusing women multiple times for the validating chortles of prep school bros won’t keep you from highest halls of the American judiciary. Baby boys, indeed.

This isn’t to say that in Drip Drip Powell has abandoned her more esoteric lyrical inclinations to be down-to-earth and practical. Songs like “Am I All,” “Married to the Body,” and especially the powerhouse “Heart of Darkness” are as sophisticated as any of her previous works, abounding with allusions and contradictions speaking to the more profound aspects of human existence. To that end, Drip Drip is also Fielded’s most biblical work to date, bookended by supplications to the Virgin Mary in the first track and exaltations of “Halleluiah” in the last. The album’s cover makes a clear reference to the Garden of Eden, as do many of the lyrics—a seeming obsession of Powell’s first revealed in Terrageist’s “Demon Seed.” Coupled with this are references to prayer in “Light it Up,” and the soul in “Drip Drip.” The organ pad behind the upbeat “Higher Love” additionally hints towards a desire for something a bit more transcendental than a better lover.

It isn’t the lyrics that give Drip Drip its unprecedented directness, then, but rather the music. The instrumentals throughout the album are much more sparse than those encountered in her previous work, and ballads like “Set in Stone,” “The Vow,” and “Am I All” practically lack instrumentals altogether. Powell seems increasingly confident in the strength of her own voice, and is hiding less within pitch-shifted, multitracked choirs. When such choirs do appear, they are quicker to invoke church than howls from the abyss, or they take on a much more percussive role, as in the interlocking staccato vocal stabs panning between earphones in the trap-inspired “Light it Up.” As her skills as a producer become more refined and direct, Powell maintains her intellectual virtuosity and existential curiosity while creating her sincerest, most direct album to date.

Hannah Arendt’s famous profile of Adolf Eichmann concludes with the assertion that the most horrific acts of evil do not often occur from the long machinations of the cunning and malevolent, but by the stupid acts of scared nobodies. In Drip Drip, the beasts first introduced in Terrageist are stripped of their teeth and claws, and what remains are frightened baby boys, whose cruelty is but a feeble attempt to eradicate a gnawing sense of insecurity and inadequacy. “Fear in men breeds the death of love,” Powell sings at her most triumphant in “Loving a Man You Can’t Touch.” For the more cynical, perhaps Powell’s three album-long confrontation with her own demons is nothing but a slow airing of dirty laundry, an unrequested confession. But really, what’s a more noble pursuit of music, if not to confront trauma and heal? Selling records? Proving your great artistry to the world? Drip Drip is dedicated to survivors, and to the extent that this album helps draw out and eradicate the poisons of misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia, it is a welcome and necessary work. If it suits her, I would even say: God bless Lindsay Powell.

HOUSE OF CORRECTIONS: An earlier version of this review misquoted some of the lyrics. Our apologies to the artist.

--Ben Dumbauld