The New York-based artist gives a flawed yet exhilarating account of human passion.
The album begins with "L'Enfer En Pleine Lumière," where SADAF recites phrases in French about living, loving, wanting and dreaming. A violin, a piano and a series of layered drums trip over each other as the song unfolds. This loose coming together and falling apart of song structure is a theme throughout—it's the sound of intentional stumbling. At their most carnivalesque and off-kilter, these moments recall CocoRosie's work of a decade ago, minus the pop influence.
Recalling the high-tempo energy of SADAF's 2016 single "C.F.C.," "Animal" takes a more hardcore approach to losing control, channel-flipping through breakneck, glitched-out breakbeats, Atari Teenage Riot-style. It's followed by "Perfection," continuing this rough crescendo, which ends with a paring-down of sound on "Tiny Engine." SADAF sings a haunted lullaby about a tiny engine alongside spare twangs, the screeching of horsehair on steel and manic flute melodies.
The album is most exciting at its most eclectic, with rapid shifts in tempo and style leaping towards catharsis. SADAF's monthly radio show with Rinse FM is a jackpot for exploring the diversity of genres that continue to influence her musical practice. Reggaetón rubs up against operatic vocals from the Middle East; happy hardcore is followed by French hip-hop.
With challenging albums, it can be difficult to find the line between calculated discomfort and tiresome weirdness. "Ditectrice" and "Feed Him" are supposed to be about the "war and confusion" spawned from a failed relationship and the "resignation and exhaustion" that follows. Undifferentiated hammering as percussion and the liberal use of vocal reverb may try to emulate those difficult emotions, but these devices are ineffective when deployed monotonously. In any case, with a narrative premise as personal and esoteric as "an eroto-intellectual retelling of a love story," a few people might tune out when the going gets tedious.
That said, none of SADAF's projects remain static. In one interview, SADAF pointed to no wave as just one movement that highlighted interdisciplinary practice and improvisation over technical skill. Her live performances never stick to the script, so even tracks that fall flat in the permanence of an album get a chance for a new life when performed in the flesh. A narrative that looks tangled on paper can swell with meaning when accompanied by visual and performative gestures.
Her last record, SHELL, shares a loose approach to form, but felt lighter, even humorous, by sticking to a quirky bank of high-register samples. History Of Heat loses this humour, but successfully pushes SADAF's sound further toward emotional extremes and peerless experimentalism. It's a testament to the exhilarating feeling of losing oneself in the heat of the moment.