There are records that are challenging to listen to because their sounds are challenging, breaking with our expectations. There are records that are challenging to listen to because they force us to face challenging issues. Fetish Bones, the most recent album by Philadelphia artist Moor Mother, is both. Fetish Bones is not only challenging, but difficult. It tears at the senses in a way that’s reminiscent of early Whitehouse. That’s not to say that their sound is exactly similar, but the effect is.
It’s impossible to find comparison points for Moor Mother, because there are none. Camae Aweya, the prolific talent behind the band name, is very much an original. And she’s an original in every way: Her sound, her lyrics, her blend of influences and elements. Fetish Bones is a perfect balance between power electronics and African American beat poetry, a mix that’s undeniably shocking.
The contrast, however, is not about shock value. As much as it reminds me of the effects of power electronics pioneers, there is none of their in-your-face violence and sexuality. The shock of Fetish Bones is in its compelling blend of rawness and dreamlike passages that border on the mystical. If it can be classified as power electronics, and I think it can, the emphasis is clearly on the power. It’s not so much a listening experience as an experience in submission.
I’m someone who’s spent a lot of time listening to noise, industrial and power electronics. After such lengthy exposure, it’s become nearly impossible for any release to take a sledgehammer to my preconceptions in this way. This album leaves me speechless, which is a difficult starting point for a review. I stumbled upon Moor Mother by a rare accident, and hearing it made me feel possessed. I knew immediately that I had to track the album down, that my musical life was incomplete without it. In a world where even talented artists create inside a house built on the work of many artisans, Moor Mother knocks down the walls and rebuilds from the ground up.
This is the first African American power electronics album that I’ve heard. I don’t mean that it’s the first album by an African American artist; I mean that it’s the first release that expresses the experience of black America. It redefines the genre because its perspective is entirely different than the genre’s often-aggressive whiteness, and from the academic side of musique concrete. It rises and falls like a human tide: a living, natural thing in the midst of urbanity’s crush.
Fetish Bones isn’t just excellent, it is necessary. It’s necessary in the way that Throbbing Gristle is necessary to understand industrial music. I truly believe that it’s an album that artists of the future will point to as foundational in the creation of a new wave of sound. It is revolutionary and sublime.