I get the impression that NYC’s viciously abstract and playfully antagonistic pop duo Stice may have started out as an Adult Swim audition. A bid to secure funding for a punk-tronic version of Loiter Squad that evolved into something else entirely. That something else is the band’s debut LP, Stice’s Satyricon. This assertion is mostly baseless and largely informed by the videos for their songs “I Need Cash!!!” and an instructional film they produced which describes a new pictorial language they’re calling “10Y.” While the influence of late-night animated comedies and mood-altering edibles, inhalables, and potables have an evident influence on the Stice, they’re also more than an absurdist musical sketch you’ve been roped into to seeing at the Upright Citizens Brigade by a person you met on a dating app- and they are certainly more than this desperate scenario condensed and consolidated into a studio album formate. No, Stice are a whole fucking trip onto themselves.
Satyricon begins with “Ollygoshawda,” a contemptuously catchy and carnivalesque implosion of Residents grade, avant-aggravating-melodies, rendered through the magic of modern production software and compressed until it takes up about as much hard drive space as a PNG file of a family photo- taken by a serial killer who attended the familial gathering dressed as a clown. The following track, “I Need Cash!!!,” is as audacious as its predecessor, and leaves no room for doubt that MIA predicted the future of pop music with MAYA and has simply been biding her time ever since for the rest of us to get onto her level. A fact you will be left to ponder while vocalist Caroline Bennett’s (aka Crab) terse and saccharine verses and producer Jake Lichter’s (aka Jark) pneumatic, oscillating beats grind your brain to the rind like they’re trying to wring a full glass of orange juice out of it. Satyricon might feel pretty hoste at times, but pretty sure it’s meant to be fun… at least I think it is. As previously alluded, my brain may have lost some vital fluid and function while writing this review.
It might have occurred to you at this point that Satyricon is a somewhat busy album, and that it might be an understatement to call what Stice is doing on on it as disorienting- and yet to do so seems negligent. We’re living in incredibly strange times, and hyper pop artists, and other practitioners of emergent forms of popular music, are doing an incredibly faithful job of reflecting through their music the conditions of a life lived through mediating technology while besieged by signs of a deteriorating society. Stice, of course, does this very well, and it, therefore, doesn’t feel right to describe their music as “outlandish,” or even “chaotic.” But that’s really what it is. It is never not jarring to hear all the different modes of Myspace era scene-rap flows that Crab can luge through on a single track. She cycles between puerile and punkified variations on ICP, Eminem, and bursts of Jonathan Davis style scats before settling into a digitally dissolved and peevish bizarro Bjork on “Killer Zero.” I’d believe you if you told me that this track was the discharge of a single episode of someone’s tumble into the throes of a mental health crisis- that is, if its twistedness wasn’t so thoroughly consistent with the internal logic of the rest of the album. It’s almost like they want you to think they’re crazy, even though you both know that they’re not. It seems easier than admitting how scared they are of the limited freedom they have in this world, and the price they might have to pay for exercising it.
Speaking of instability, “Touch The Cloth” sounds like it was written and recorded with a horrified and nervous SWATteam waiting in the lobby of the studio, responding to a tip-off that Stice had bashed in Merrill Garbus’s head with a drum machine and were presently wearing her skull and strips of her flayed skin as both disguises and as talismans to enhance their state of creative flow. A similarly bizarre series of events appears to be transpiring on “I Piss Myself” and “Boogie on My Funky Grave.” Each of which sounds like the band absolutely wrecked whatever synthesizers they were written on- as if they had linked these instruments to the bodies of their enemies through some advanced feat of techno-acoustic-sorcery and were not exacting punishment upon their adversaries by abusing the devices like plastic, effects-laden voodoo dolls.
Amongst the things that appear to disturb Stice (and there are many: lack of liquidity, uncertain futures, navigating the New York subway system, etc…), they exhibit an acute discomfort with the flatness of images. Particularly the way in which these thin shavings of spectacle come to represent the self to others through the interface of social technologies. This is especially true of “Limp Image,” where sardonic references are made to “perfect pictures painted perfectly,” and the question is posed, “How does it behave when I go look at it wrong?” A musing that is accompanied by a back-beat that could have been sequenced by a Tumblr thread that has acquired sentience and eviscerated and absorbed its creator. The singularity realized through parricide. It’s not far off from what happens to people in the use of social media generally. Whatever nourishes you, destroys you, as the saying goes.
The last observation that I need to make about Satyricon, is that nothing about it actually feels like satire. It has all the components of satire, and it is, in fact, quite funny in places, but the overall thrust of the record isn’t one that leaves me with the impression of hyperbole or parody. Behind the spastic theatrics and unnerving freneticism in Stice’s performance is something that you often glimpse in interactions with Gen Z and Millenials. That is a sense of displacement and a manic scramble to find some stable footing in a quickly eroding landscape. It’s not so much a sense of despair as the recognition of looming destitution and acceptance of the impoverished potential nature of the latter half of this Century as it progresses. And why not? Why shouldn’t they feel that way? I mean, what are we leaving them? The thin chance that taking on an astronomical amount of debt will produce viable employment options? Oceans inhabited principally by discarded fishing equipment and particularized plastics, enriched in their toxicity by PFAS, mercury, lead, and got knows what else? Or how about an atmosphere that’s been microwaved so that rich idiots can trade fake money and invest in crude drawings of monkeys dressed like hipsters. If I were them, I’d be a little frantic too.