Album review: Dorian Electra – My agenda
My agenda is the follow-up to the excellent self-released debut album by hyperpop artist Dorian Electra Flamboyant released last year. For the uninitiated, hyperpop is a term attached to the PC Music label founded in the early 2010s. It takes pop clichés to absurd extremes and has been most popularly adopted into the mainstream by Charli XCX whose artistic director AG Cook founded the label. The genre has evolved since its inception and on Flamboyant, Dorian Electra has fallen on the catchier end of the spectrum. Their impeccable sonic palette and lyrical genre deconstruction place them firmly as one of the standard bearers of the accelerationist pop movement. At My agenda, Dorian Electra has gotten even more experimental and while there are still a lot of hooks, Flamboyant ends up looking conservative in comparison.
Dorian Electra packs an absurd number of genres into a concise 31 minutes with a cheerful abandon. Deconstructed club, bubble gum bass and heavy metal are just a few clear influences that appear, often within the same song. The experimentation is apparent from the start. The theatrical intro of ‘F The World’ gives way to a frantic kick drum beat, faster and more aggressive than anything heard on Flamboyant. The title track ‘My Agenda’ changes things right away with a more relaxed trap beat and almost a stadium rock chorus. Dramatic guitar hits punctuate Electra’s growls; “ My agenda / Might offend you / Out here flexing in my / rainbow suspenders. “ Gentleman ” combines a baroque flute intro with an almost comical and rudimentary saxophone riff while Gregorian chant launches “ Monk Mode (Interlude) ” before the dubstep and screamo vocals end the track. “ Barbie Boy ” is perhaps the most similar to old-school PC music with its catchy, saccharine voice delivered over trance chords and a typically twisted bridge where the sweetness turns sour.
This gender leap is irreverent and done expertly. The busier, more multiphase tracks are interspersed with more melodic tracks like ‘Sorry Bro (I Love You)’, so the madness never gets exhausting. While the album as a whole is less catchy than FlamboyantElectra’s talent for writing pop songs is still showcased on tracks like “Barbie Boy” and “Give Great Thanks” where their vocals have more of a place in the mix. Some tracks, however, are a little too irreverent to be completely satisfactory, in particular “Monk Mode (Interlude)”. Sometimes the brevity of the tracks ends up preventing the listener from hanging on to one element before being thrown into another section. But repeated plays reveal a plethora of great hooks buried in chaos and the production is still fantastic. The whole album is littered with typical hyperpop sonic debris that resembles a computer being torn apart, and the metallic snares and dubstep screams and wubs are deliciously obnoxious.
The frenzied direction of the album appropriately reflects Electra’s lyrics which enter darker ground than their debut. As Electra re-explores gender identity and toxic masculinity, they now more explicitly address online culture and the rise of the alternative right. “F the World” is written from an incel point of view (“F the world because I’m ugly / F the world, you don’t love me”) while “Edgelord” targets Internet trolls. The latter includes a verse from Rebecca Black, one of the many artists featured on the album, which is particularly impactful as Black herself suffered online abuse after releasing the single “ Friday ” while ‘she was just a teenager. Also in particular, on ‘My Agenda’ Electra brings together Pussy Riot and the Village People, an example of an Electra showcase examples of queerness from both fringe and mainstream respectively. The features work surprisingly well and there is an odd thrill to hearing the friendly disco voice of the Village People sounding demonic on the chorus.
As with their collar on Flamboyant, Dorian Electra returns to a medieval aesthetic on the My agenda cover, wielding a sword like in a fantasy video game. The aesthetic belonging to a traditionally male dominated culture is reused through a queer lens to great effect. “Gentleman” and “M’lady”, with their baroque intros, playfully undermine traditional gender expectations. On “Gentleman”, Electra sings like a hyperbolic humorous paradigm of male chivalry as “the last living gentleman” invites us to take their “soft hand / off to a soft land”. “M’Lady” exposes the contradictions charged in traditional expectations of women to be both “sexy” and “pure”. The title of the track, a reference to an internet meme, is a prime example of Electra’s willingness to engage in internet culture in a way that feels refreshing and never shrewd.
However, Electra does not simply criticize these spaces of toxic masculinity without advocating for an alternative. One of the album’s catchiest moments, “ Sorry Bro (I Love You), ” celebrates male vulnerability in the same way that Flamboyant ‘Man to man.’ The sincere wholesomeness of lines like, “ Sorry bro, I’m thinking of you / I don’t want to disturb you / But sorry bro, I love you ” makes it the auditory equivalent of buff guys help nerdy kid meme. “Give Great Thanks” is a closer fantastic album and, although understated, it is perhaps the sharpest track on the album. The lyrics are disturbingly ambiguous as Electra repeatedly expresses her gratitude, even for “ The way you choke my neck / And don’t let me breathe. ” Beautiful harmonies and reverb washed keys make the song’s sound triumph, and so we wonder if Electra is referring to a masochistic relationship or expressing rumbling but genuine gratitude for metaphorical pain.
The total madness of My agenda genre skips, although excellently managed, still allow much less easy listening than Flamboyant melodicism. However, his more manic tone perhaps suits the more political subject. On “Ram It Down”, Electra responds to the common and superficially tolerant argument: “Love whoever you want / But don’t stick it down your throat” by repeatedly shouting, “Row it!” Pop it! Perhaps it is fitting then that this time around there is no chance that Electra’s political message will be inoculated by catchy hooks. Yet although, as the title half-jokingly suggests, Electra doesn’t hesitate to give us her “ agenda. ” It is a program that is particularly inclusive and, above all, fun. While some tracks are just too irreverent to be fully gratifying, Dorian Electra’s clever lyrics and daring production, “more is more” make for a great release.
My agenda is now available via Dorian Electra
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