The name Steven Warwick may not immediately ring a bell for many of us. But it’s the real name of the artist formerly known as Heatsick, responsible for some of the most whimsical and playful electronic music released in the ‘10s by nonetheless than the ultra-conceptual PAN label.
We left Warwick in 2013 with Re-Engineering, and six years later he’s come back with Moi, released under his own name.
Not only has he put aside the previous moniker, but he’s also portrayed on the cover for the first time. This, together with the very name of the album, is a key indicator of the more intimate shift in his music. It’s as if switching to his real name has allowed Warwick to expose himself more, as testified by the relevance accorded to the vocal parts.
Although sardonic singing and spoken word are no novelty in his work, Warwick’s voice is as much the main character of Moi as the carefully arranged electronic tapestry unfurling beneath and around it. While certain episodes are straight electronic beats, off-kilter and heavily influenced by afro-caribbean rhythms, the dominant pattern is that of an almost minimalistic songwriting over what we may call an avant- (yet accessible and fully enjoyable) take on synth pop.
But Warwick is a man of contrasts, thus the playful and flamboyant attitude that often marks his tone is at odds – in the wake of grotesque and absurdism – with the pensive atmosphere of beatless tracks; or with the frantic, almost functional rhythmic engine of other takes. It’s the constant interplay between seriousness and mockery, austerity and playfulness, introspection and extravaganza, pop and experimentalism, that confers Moi a large-scale range of moods and sonic habitats.
The first part of the album nods more explicitly to synth- and avant-pop, both music-wise – the syncopated beat of “Open fire hydrant”, the mysterious abstract techno of “Cold light of day”, the jazzy reference on “Kind of blue”, Rian Treanoresque kinetics on “Kaleidoscope”, R&B a-la Blood Orange on “Over There” – and vocal-wise. Warwick’s pitch and delivery oscillates widely, calling to mind The Knife’s high pitched squeaks as well as Dean Blunt sluggish haze, or Galcher Lustwerk’s flow.
On its second half, Moi features two somber ambient tracks that reset the tension before the final outburst of irresistible synth and percussions: “Rush” sounds like a Principe record having a panic attack, while the closer “Silhouette” (perhaps the absolute highlight of Moi) throw us onto the sweatiest dancefloor populated by freaks and outsiders.
Offering a journey, as the press release goes, through “interior worlds and personal architecture”, Moi pushes the limits of playfulness and extravaganza, feeling at the same time intimate in the name of an oxymoronic serious lightness, or light seriousness. A kaleidoscopic work to jump into.