On Loke Rahbek's latest LP, real beauty and nightmarish visions are constant companions.
Loke Rahbek, a key figure in Copenhagen's experimental scene, has used the Croatian Amor alias for his most dramatic impulses, those that require a mix of ambient soundscapes, power electronics and vocal manipulation. He has presented the project as a kind of fantasy grounded in the horrors of postmodernism, one that can explore "virtual communication" and an "overload of information." On 2017's Finding People EP, Rahbek relied on human disorder—samples of heavy breathing and panicked pleas—to drive home his message. On Isa, the disruption is far more mechanic.
The album opener, "Towards Isa," presents a diabolical robot with a feminized voice, a sort of antichrist Alexa: "I use you as my weapon, as the blade I use to cut," she says, emotionless, backed by synths redolent of Gregorian chants. Stuttering, sliced vocal samples, offbeat trap drums and metallic clanging make the first half of the album a terrifying and anxious listen, a far cry from the beatific piano melodies of 2016's Love Means Taking Action. But far more than previous releases, Isa showcases Rahbek's vision as a world builder. His world is still fragmented, but the fragments are more fleshed out, and far more visual. Here's a line from "Eden 1.1" and "Eden 1.2," delivered by Frederikke Hoffmeier and Yves Tumor: "One day I saw an entirely black airplane in the sky. Black all around it. And the sky went pitch black with it."
Isa's second half finally begins to show its human underbelly, thanks to a bevy of multifaceted collaborators. "Dark Cut," featuring Jonnine Standish's warm alto, is the closest the album gets to a love song. Similarly, Alto Aria lends her honeyed vocals to "Into Salt." Backed by soft piano and shuffling drum machine, the song feels positively intimate—that is, before it is interrupted by another frightening visual, delivered by a robot: "Enhance photo to reveal a picture of bird caught mid-flight. Enhance again, the bird has a human face, screaming." Isa never lets the listener get too comfortable. This is often to its detriment, as its narratives bump up against moments of real beauty, casting a robotic detachment over even its warmest moments. But Rahbek does an admirable job of presenting visions that are hard to shake.