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Review: Elysia Crampton, 'Presents: Demon City'

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

<em>Elysia Crampton Presents: Demon City </em>
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Elysia Crampton Presents: Demon City

In an interview with the writer and academic Adam Harper last year, Elysia Crampton described folk music as connected to both the past and the future. Folk music, she said, testifies to the existence, past and present, of people otherwise erased or made invisible by oppression and genocide, and carries this testimony into the future through "the constant regeneration of all the parts that maintain what it is or allow it to evolve along certain lines." More simply, she continued, folk music "recovers what was lost."

These lost and suppressed histories reverberate throughout the Bolivian-American musician and writer's work. Last year's American Drift -- her first full-length album under her own name and one of the most compelling electronic records of the year — dug up these stories via an ever-in-flux meditation on the mineral origins of Crampton's mestiza roots, her transgender identity and the movement, lithic and historical, of Earth itself. A collaborative musical "epic poem," Demon City mines another aspect of Crampton's definition of folk music: It elaborates on a shared world by amplifying marginalized voices.

Crampton calls Demon City a document of the "Severo style," which she describes as "an ongoing process of becoming-with, made possible by the family-networks and communities that have inspired and sustained our survival and collective search for transformative justice." Her accomplices are Chino Amobi, Rabit, Why Be and Lexxi, all friends, previous collaborators and artists who, in their own ways, speak forcefully from the margins. Each artist's solo work pushes the possibilities for political, abrasive, body-oriented electronic music, and it's thrilling to hear them assert their vision.

As a poem, Demon City features many speakers who often perform at the same time. It describes a dark world, disorienting and threatening. The second track, "After Woman" — dedicated to Bartolina Sisa, the indigenous Aymara woman who led an armed rebellion against the Spanish colonizers in Bolivia and, in 1782, was raped and murdered for it — sets sound-effects explosions, screams and visceral sub-bass against a chugging polyrhythm as it explodes in several directions at once. At the same time, Crampton and her collaborators shade this apocalyptic soundscape with humor, sorrow and light. Mournful beauty suffuses the hypnotic "Demon City," while "Children Of Hell" twirls with a carnival-esque wonkiness that draws as much on the Bay Area ratchet sound as it does on Bolivian folk melodies. "Esposas" shudders and sparks like Crampton's best work under her E+E moniker.

Histories of oppression and their current-day manifestations haunt the album's aesthetic. The words of Veronica Bolina (a transgender woman beaten by police in Brazil) and Frederick Douglass sit side-by-side as epigrams. But within the world of Demon City, Crampton and her collaborators transform these histories by taking control of them. This is the stereophonic sound of artists who shape and reckon with their realities simultaneously. They are the ones staging the apocalypse, and they will inherit the earth.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joseph Ocón