In a review of Alien: Covenant in the London Review of Books, Michael Wood raises the following question: how can we disinguish between David, the servant-robot gone autonomous, and Michael Fassbender, the living actor who embodies this character? As Wood writes: “We could describe David’s walk across the room as pedantic, the gait of a creature that wants to walk like a human, only slightly better: a tidier, more stately process. But then who is walking here, who has devised this wonderful simulation of a simulation? Fassbender’s impersonation of the pedantry is a perfect work of human art”. The issue is that of the human and non-human – the digital, or technological – and how they relate. In Alien, the idea that robots can be human-like in the future is made plausible only because David, in the end, is a human being, acting in front of a camera.
Deerful, too, probes this relation between the digital and the humane on her new album Peach, though less directly (and, one could say, subtler). This is hardly a novel subject, of course: OK Computer is 20 years old by now, after all. And perhaps this is the most obvious – too obvious – part of Deerful’s music to pick up on, but I pick up on it anyway. You can read here what the album is ‘actually’ about, but it is my power as a music critic to make Peach about anything. This decade’s OKC it is. And mind, a lot has changed since 1997. For one, music and technology is less and less the domain of men, and instead there is an increasing number of female voices of which Deerful is one (see also: Emily Reo, who inspired more of Peach than just the album title). Secondly, technology has advanced – who could’ve dreamed of the world we live in now, in 1997? The extent to which computers actually played a role on OK Computer is more or less limited to that Macintosh voice on ‘Fitter Happier’, whereas Deerful has Twitter algorithms, Gameboys and other gimmicks. Compare ‘Treefingers’ to ‘Peach Rose Tea’ and you’ll get the idea!
Those are, however, not the most important differences. What is most shocking is not happening at the level of technology a all, but at the human level. It is that we’ve become, somehow, acquainted with this new world, we are, albeit vaguely, comfortable within it. The question Peach raises, then, is not about a contrast, and neither about fusion if we imagine that as a cyborg-type situation (I met Emma and I can tell you she’s very much not a cyborg). It’s much more fundamental: what does it mean to be human situated in this digital world? That’s the question Deerful answers on Peach, by example: she somehow defines those unknown relations. And what’s special about the album is not the blips and bleeps and use of whatever synth, but the way it sounds so organic (like peach – a fruit). Breaking that final frontier is something electronic music has hardly ever done.
In this light, it is interesting to compare Peach to Enderby’s Room, an album on which Emma Winston (who is Deerful) is also present. I’ve compared Deerful to the very early Magnetic Fields before, so in keeping with that tradition Enderby’s Room are then the later, more well-known indie folk side of Magnetic Fields – though perhaps more folky. It is the archetype of organic music: ‘real’ people, sitting around a campfire, all those feelings, et cetera. But in the end, the two albums aren’t that far removed from each other: they both display the same humanity, but merely in different types of situations. And of course, Emma is the constant accross the two, and she, as I confirmed earlier, is very much human – so that, in the end, is still the source of the feeling I am describing here. Or, as Michael Wood writes: “There are only humans here; or rather, only images of only humans.”
When Deerful released their debut EP Staying Still, it was our 5th best album of 2016, even though it’s not even an album! Emma pointed this out and I jokingly told her that she was now in debt to us, and that it was up to her album – this album, Peach – to justify that premature inclusion into Beautiful Freaks’ annals. If anything, Peach is even better than Staying Still, and the only reason I haven’t mentioned specific tracks is because it would be too hard too choose. So Emma, if you are reading this, consider your debt forgiven. Although, finally, I would like to add a new one: you have a debt – to the world – to continue making unearthly music like this.
-- Caspar Jacobs, June 12, 2017