I Lie Here Buried With My Rings And My Dresses opens with a haunting vocal sample, one that I haven’t been able to source. It sounds like it could be a cult leader or a religious fanatic; in the world of Backxwash, maybe those are one and the same. “The purpose of pain is to get our attention that something is wrong,” it repeats on a loop. “It’s in this sense that a little bit of pain is a good thing.” The music that Ashanti Mutinta makes as Backxwash deals almost exclusively in pain. Pain is not a good thing. Talk to anyone who has experienced real, actual hardship and they would much rather have not. It’s seems a whole lot easier to just be happy. Mutinta, who grew up in a conservative environment in Zambia before moving to Canada as a teen, spends her songs trying to mitigate all the pain that she’s felt. Her songs are open wounds — they are raw and visceral and suffocatingly intense.
Backxwash started putting out music a few years ago, and she quickly built up a following for her inventive use of metal samples in rap and a furious, infectiously angry sound. Her songs are creeping and uneasy, and they explore the constant fear and paranoia that religion can saddle someone with for life. Though she no longer considers herself a Christian, Mutinta is still haunted by the reductive good vs. evil dichotomy that so often comes with the religion. She focuses on demons and the more macabre aspects of Christianity — the idea that your soul needs to be “saved,” that there’s a constant war going on between dark forces in the underworld to lay claim to you. Her music sounds like a grand exorcism, with heaving beats that are terrifying and awesome in the biblical sense of the word.
On I Lie Here Buried With My Rings And My Dresses — her third full-length album following last year’s Polaris Prize-winning God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It and 2019’s Deviancy — Backxwash gives herself over to her darkest impulses. The songs tackle addiction and suicidal ideation and the feeling that you’re never going to be able to quiet all the voices that tell you that you’re never going to be good enough. “I should have left a note/ Because if life is what you make of it, I’m going for the do-or-die approach,” she raps on “WAIL OF THE BANSHEE,” as she downs a cocktail of pills and alcohol: “Maybe then I will feel something/ Look in the mirror, it’s telling me I could kill something.”
Backxwash’s last album, God Has Nothing To Do With This, was framed as an examination of forgiveness; I Lie Here Buried doesn’t allow much room for redemption. It takes place in the midst of drug binges and downward descents into self-annihilation. The terse and taut “NINE HELLS” finds Backxwash stuck in repetitive cycles: “Paranoia gets you/ Do you trust your shadows? You get the panic attack, you feel manic in fact/ Maybe you should have a Xanax, relax.” Closer “BURN TO ASHES,” which samples the piercing guitar solo from Godspeed! You Black Emperor’s “World Police And Friendly Fire,” is blunt about the mental health toll of the last year: “I feel like hiding from the world/ I know it’s hard and I feel the pandemic is making it worse.”
This time around, Backxwash recruited musicians from the world of experimental hip-hop and noise and indie rock and punk to be part of her own harrowing arena. There’s the scraping and feverish “BLOOD IN THE WATER,” which was produced by Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson of clipping.; Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis guests on “SONGS OF SINNERS,” her voice curdling into a chilling chorus that stands as one of the album’s highlights. “IN THY HOLY NAME” is built around a noise set from sound designer Lauren Bousfield. The album also features contributions from Irish dark-synth artist SurgeryHead and Texas rapper Censored Dialogue and production from Code Orange’s Jami Morgan. It’s evident that Backxwash’s blend of harsh noise and hard revelations has attracted talent from all over the spectrum, brought together by the internet’s wide reach.
The album was mastered by Ada Rook, one-half of Black Dresses, who also guests on the album’s title track, sounding downright possessed. It’s one of Backxwash’s most accomplished songs, billowing and serrated and fully enveloping. On it, she pieces together her struggles in detail with razor-sharp lines like “I’m lost in addiction, exiled from my sisters/ The colonies and their vision is robbing me of my diction” and “The Lord has witnessed the many swords in my rib cage/ Just when I needed him most, I get ignored/ It’s ridiculous.” There’s no easy relief for pain. It just festers. It’s not a matter of feeling it so much as it is learning to move past it, teach yourself to not make it a part of your everyday life. Instead of enduring pain, it’s best to excise those demons entirely — through her music, Backxwash confronts the darkest parts of herself and depicts how impossible it can be to leave those parts behind. By doing so, she makes music that is thrilling and cathartic in its own right.
I Lie Here Buried With My Rings And My Dresses is out 6/20. Pre-order it here.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Kings Of Convenience’s Peace Or Love.
• Angélique Kidjo’s Mother Nature.
• Joan Armatrading’s Consequences.
• Mykki Blanco’s Broken Hearts & Beauty Sleep.
• Andrew Hung (of Fuck Buttons)’s Devastations.
• Max Bloom (formerly of Yuck)’s Pedestrian.
• Covey’s Class Of Cardinal Sin.
• MNDR’s Hell To Be You Baby.
• Bootlicker’s self-titled debut LP.
• Styx’s Crash Of The Crown.
• Tom Morello & Bloody Beetroots’ The Catastrophists EP.
• Noah Britton’s I Love You EP.
• Monograms’ Floors & Ceilings EP.
• The soundtrack for comic book Dark Nights: Death Metal.