EYE | Sabine (Knekelhuis 2016)

In a preview hosted earlier this summer on Juno Plus, Knekelhuis label boss Mark Van de Maat described Sabine as “a breeze and a blast at the same time”. Yes, the image fits: but both pass quickly while Laurène Exposito’s first full-length record might just remain for a long time. We knew a few things about EYE via a sequence of discreet releases on her own Waving Hands, a deeply DIY-indebted label inaugurated with her own band Prisma, of which she released a series of covers of underground synthwave classics – by Antena, Experimental Products, Turquoise Days, Elisa Waut – which made her historical affiliations crystal clear. Listeners might also remember, earlier this summer, a re-edition of the bizzare child-synth tape The Old Guard by Nicole Campau. She released Facit’s Måndag Mon Amour, discreet, elegant and functional like Swedish interiors; she also reissued Gust De Meyer’s Casioworks, punching a hole into our hearts, at least certainly into mine. And now, it turns out Exposito’s one of a host of contemporary women operating old machines with new expertise and heartfelt depth, of the likes of Marie Davidson or Heather H. Celeste. Women who, by referencing without mimicking, are able to freshly and unpretentiously reinterpret the message of that elusive thing called minimal synth – which, as Exposito’s record reminds us, thrives in the hands of women.

Sabine starts hard and softens as time goes on: it bangs out of its wax encasing with the nightmarish “There Is” and “Undress”, two hammering bursts of negative energy, the first in which something like the structure of an English lesson turns deeply existential (“There is no more secrets in your eyes / there are no more love and no more pain”), the second a science-fictional pulsating thing with girly screams and that repeated sentence “into the night” which is almost de rigeur for anything wanting to penetrate the kind of sonic lands EYE inhabits. Later in the record, the almost military melancholia of “Nachtwasser” and “Harvest Heart” show off an intelligent innocence, alternating toy organs, Bontempis and flurries of Juno and speaking back to a whole canon of Mitteleuropean solitary synth music, reinhabiting bedroom and basements of the past and of the present and demonstrating that, while certain sonic choices might have gone out of fashion, the sensibility behind those choices is very much alive. And while the title track “Sabine”, a haunted love song in the shape of a discreetly pop dance piece, might be the retro-tinged earworm of this record, EYE also offers some more contemporary efforts, such as the closing pieces “Pale Eyes” and “Soft Grey Moon”, both of which carry a much more 21st century taste for a fuzzy abstraction.

Sabine picks up the baton of 30 years of European electronic sadness and blows it like an icy wind into the future

EYE has made a touching album that in all of its candid and unpretentious freshness manages to pick up the baton of 30 years of European electronic sadness and blow it like an icy wind into the future. To those who say that minimal synth is a genre invented by ebay sellers, this is a good album to say, look what minimal synth was and continues to be: intelligent, sober music, as painful and as gleaming as a tear on Pierrot’s cheek. As someone once wrote as a closing line, oh deep sigh.

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