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Thursday, February 22, 2024

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Arts + CultureMusicOn 'Census Designated,' Jane Remover's restless intimacy strikes a...

On ‘Census Designated,’ Jane Remover’s restless intimacy strikes a new chord

Turning from digicore to coruscating rock, she balances destructive tendencies with luxurious spaciousness

In an interview with Madelyn Dawson for Paste Magazine, timed to coincide with the release of her new album Census Designated, the musician Jane Remover tells a story about one particularly scary night on the road. She was on the way to Seattle when a blizzard forced her to pull over in the middle of the night. “We were in the middle of absolutely nowhere,” she says, “There’s a little bit of fear. You can feel your heart beating the backseat of the car.” And yet, she also describes this moment as the literal realization of the ideas at the heart of the record: “A lot of what this album was centered around, idea-wise—this exact thing happening to me, like, by choice, wanting to go to the middle of nowhere and disappearing and just falling off the face of the earth… This is exactly like the picture that I was trying to paint.”

These ideas—of both sought-out devastation, and of imagined visions manifesting into reality—feel equally central to Census Designated. On the one hand, the album is searing and raw, its soundscape often erupting into roiling waves of guitar feedback and screamed vocals; in the lyrics, Remover compares herself to fresh meat, promises that “If you want crazy, I’ll give you insane,” and asks to be chewed up and spit out. But alongside its destructive tendencies, the album has a surprisingly luxurious sense of space. Its songs don’t progress so much as patiently unfurl; the longest song, “Video,” opens with a minute-long blast of noise before resolving into a delicate, skyscraping power ballad, climaxing when she sings, “All I want you to do is chase me.” Instead of cutting directly to the point, the songs on Census Designated ask the listener to sit down and pay attention, to go at Remover’s pace as she builds the record’s emotional world.

This might seem strange for an artist whose earlier work was so rooted in the rapidly evolving world of internet subcultures. Remover first gained notoriety in the Soundcloud– and Discord-focused world of digicore, a hyperpop-adjacent form of electronic music characterized by genre-hopping freneticism; the songs on her early EP Teen Week run on a caffeinated combination of pitched vocals and drum and bass loops, coming across like a grimier version of the Powerpuff Girls theme song. By comparison, her 2021 album Frailty seems almost restrained, even as it offsets its bedroom-folk guitars and whispery emo vocals with EDM drops, neon-bright videogame synths, and layers of digital fuzz.

All this is to say that Census Designated is both a huge creative leap and a culmination of her evolution up to this point. It shares with her past work a diaphanous melodic approach and an underlying vulnerability, but it replaces her previous hyperactive volatility with the physical force and structured dynamism of shoegaze and grunge. It sounds like the precise moment when teenage concerns are replaced by adult ones, when the world starts intruding on your sense of self and you’re pushed to define the shape your life will take.

This description could just as easily apply to this moment in Remover’s career. Upon releasing the first single on Census Designated, album opener “Cage Girl,” in 2022, Remover also publicly came out as a trans woman, making herself and her art legible to the world in a different way. Now, she’s touring as a headliner for the first time, bringing her Designated Dreams Tour to the Brick & Mortar, Sat/10.

And Census Designated’s radical sonic departure will likely make this performance very different from her prior shows; in an interview with Ian Cohen for Stereogum, she says, “It [was] me, a DJ, some noise knobs, a guitar, and a mic. This album’s not meant to be played in the same way.” In her conversation with Dawson for Paste, she goes further: “I’m going to go into the crowd. I definitely want to start screaming during the live session. I think part of what makes the experience of going so far is there’s a different level of emotion and connection that you’re able to experience. I want to make it like a really good performance, both for the fans to feel fulfilled after it but, also, I want to feel fulfilled after performing, too.”

Remover is a restlessly creative musician, and has already dropped hints that her next album will take a different form than the coruscating rock on Census Designated; the next time she returns to San Francisco, her touring setup and live experience will probably look and feel different, too. It’s exciting to see Remover metamorphose so rapidly, knowing that her future still holds so many surprises. And it’s also thrilling to see her at this moment, making music this powerful and confident. Regardless of the future, Jane Remover is pushing herself forward right now, and with the style and panache of an old pro. Or, as she put it to Youtuber Anthony Fantano in an interview before the recording of Census Designated, “I’m entering my rockstar era.”

JANE REMOVER w/ quannic, Sat/10, 8pm, Brick & Mortar, SF. More info here.

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