Sophia Saze's first LP is promising and frustrating in equal measure.
The normal move for an artist in her position would be to put out a few more EPs, build a DJ profile, and eventually release an album rooted in the club. On Self, however, Saze boldly says to hell with that. It's a two-part album, released on cassette, lasting a total of 54 minutes. The two parts should be considered as one long piece, although they were released a couple months apart. Only one track, the part-one opener, "Salome (სალომე)," lasts more than three minutes, and there are 29 altogether. There are beats on the record (more on that later) but they're fleeting, and overall not the focus. Self lands on Francis Harris's Kingdoms, a label that's described its sound as being "club-inflected jazz, contemporary composition, ambient and reissues of obscurities from across the musical spectrum."
Self is basically an extended collage that dispenses with most traditional song or track structures. The mood is melancholic, mysterious and occasionally unnerving. Saze recorded the bulk of the material in a series of fevered live jams across 48 hours, and later developed what she'd captured. The album does indeed feel like a brain dump of absolutely every idea that was drifting around her mind at the time. Despite lasting less than a minute, some tracks move rapidly through three different themes or passages. Raw processing, hum and crackle are constant presences on the record, as are field recordings and found sounds, some of which were taken from cassette recordings from her childhood. Saze never allows the record to rest, which makes drawing out and focussing on individual tracks next to impossible.
For all of the evident ingenuity and cunning ideas on Self, the album unfortunately fails in a few fundamental ways. Put short, nothing sticks. This is music whose tone asks us to sink deeply into it and absorb it—before something new is thrust into focus ten seconds later. The layered style of composition works well at times, especially in some of the polyrhythmic sections, but too often complexity turns to clutter. This can be frustrating when the seeds of arresting ideas emerge above the churn. And for a record as tonally broad as Self, the frequency with which Saze reaches for beats that imitate Burial is pretty striking. Artists have, understandably, been heavily influenced by the UK artist down the years, but his aesthetic is far too singular to emulate so directly. It feels like the individual parts of a great album are present on Self—it's just that they're scattered throughout a dense musical maze.