Album Review: Divide and Dissolve – Gas Lit

[Invada; 2021]

There is undeniable beauty in crushing volume. From the synaesthesia-inducing repetition of Sunn O))) to The Body’s raucous squall, through to Moor Mother’s aural assault, there is more to turning amps up to 11 than just being one louder. With enhanced decibels comes increased ownership of space, and Divide and Dissolve‘s Gas Lit is all about that.

Divide and Dissolve are Takiaya Reed (saxophone, guitars, effects) and Sylvie Nehill (drums, effects), who create ethereal drone and menacing doom, all with the purpose of smashing colonial borders and bringing forward the end of white supremacy and patriarchy. A noble cause, and if you disagree then it’s best you stop reading here – Divide and Dissolve are not for you, and you are also an idiot.

“Oblique” kicks things off in serene manner, with Reed’s saxophone creating a pensive, mournful sonic palette that ebbs and flows over itself, before the onslaught begins. Anyone familiar with Divide and Dissolve’s wonderful back catalogue knows that the lulling sounds are soon swept aside as the drums and guitars enter the fray. The propulsive nature of the music and the sheer cacophony created by the duo is indicative of their drive to get their message across. That Divide and Dissolve’s music is instrumental belies the strength of the political messaging at the band’s core; their raw anger is easily identifiable through the tones in the music and the authority that often comes from being loud.

Their grinding power is at its peak on “Prove It”, possibly the band’s most intimidating recording to date. It’s a feral track of unbridled menace; the guitar sounds reverberate like conquering aeroplanes overhead, as the drums pound away like an untamed beast, getting ever more furious. It’s the sound of a boot being stamped on a human face forever, of the need to stay strong and proud and loud; it’s sonic frequencies as righteous anger – and it’s totally enrapturing. It’s an alarm call to not be integrated into a burning house, a vicious and profane celebration of culture and personal identity in the face of the colonialist nature of globalisation and the erasure of the unique and that which can’t be commodified.

“Did You Have Something To Do With It” is a spoken-word piece by Minori Sanchiz-Fung, who also appeared with Divide and Dissolve on their 2018 album Abomination. As the only words on an incredibly political album, they carry a heavy burden. The phrase “this is our time” opens the track, before Sanchiz-Fung uses a monotone, arrhythmic delivery to recount how suffering rises from greed, fracturing hope “first by attacking the body, and then by distorting the mind.” It’s powerful stuff, and delivered in such a way that strips away the human level, thereby making it monolithic, and the depersonalised nature becomes political. An ambient drone accompanies the words, but so mesmeric and fundamentally essential is the message of the spoken passage that you’d be forgiven for not hearing the backing.

Divide and Dissolve create great slabs of noise on “Denial” and “Far From Ideal” – the latter sounding like a garage band being recorded through the wall next door. It’s a cacophony of noise expertly captured by producer Ruban Neilson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, who uses the jarring effect of the instrumentation to carry the record without overly dressing it up or toning it down.

There are tonal shifts in the record away from the brutal sonic onslaught. The two closing tracks rely heavily on Reed’s saxophone to bring proceedings to a more sombre conclusion, rather than with the visceral rage evident elsewhere. “Mental Gymnastics” weaves a sultry and desolate sax figure, before it morphs into album closer “We Are Really Worried About You”, which continues the soporific and sorrowful sax before crashing into one last maelstrom of noise. It’s a glorious show of unity in the face of the more reflective and pensive moments that precede it, the gnashing teeth of an ideal.

Gas Lit is an important record from an important band. It doesn’t attempt to make things palatable for you, and nor should it. The record is a provocation to a difficult conversation, one that in all honesty shouldn’t really still have to take place in 2021. It should be a given that borders are nothing more than imagined lines of demarcation created by and for colonial interests, and that gender is a genuinely weird social construct.  People still talk about race as if such a thing exists, too. It doesn’t. The term ‘race’ was a label developed so that your average white person was given validation as to the use of slavery and to their supposed superiority. Imagine thinking that inhumane practices made you better than others. All of these things are illusions created by the elites to hoodwink us into feeling separated from one another. The destruction of sophisticated and elaborate cultures all over the world to portray people as savages and inferior is a fact that needs to be acknowledged and owned. We have all been gas lit by the hegemonic capabilities of the 1% – it’s time to do something about it, and the first step is to accept it.