Album Review: Divide and Dissolve – Systemic

[Invada; 2023]

Melbourne-based duo Divide and Dissolve (saxophonist and guitarist Takiaya Reed and percussionist Sylvie Nehill) were lauded and received death threats in response to their video for “Resistance”, the fifth track on 2018’s Abomination. Throughout the short film, they mock-sprayed urine on monuments of Captain James Cook, who initiated European contact with Australia, thereby setting cycles of exploitation and abuse in motion, and John Batman, infamous for massacring bushrangers and Aboriginal people. While D//D’s instrumentally based work certainly exudes an insurrectionary tone, this video, along with subsequent PR, interviews, and statements, underscored their specific social and political stances, enhancing the way in which their music is popularly and critically encountered.

With their latest album, Systemic, D//D continue to explore the approaches used on previous projects, including 2021’s Gas Lit: alternately explosive, riffy, and thrumming guitar-and-drum sprawls punctuated by austere and eerily melodic interludes. “Blood Quantum”, for example, features a classically-inflected intro a la Liturgy that abruptly veers into a doom-friendly welter of ragged guitars and garage-y drums. The piece feels organically rendered, spurred by Reed and Nehill’s creative chemistry more than a preset method or composition.

The droney aspects of “Derail” recall recent Sunn O))) or the more repetitive aspects of Sleep. The track centers on a give-and-take between chaos and order. Id and superego impulses blend and clash, accentuating how rigid systems thwart natural diversification, causing entropy and fostering toxic fallout. “Simulacra” is intriguing for its brief devolution into pure noise, Reed’s guitar part frenzied, anarchic, unwired. Reed, meanwhile, tosses her metronome into the sacrificial fire, pounding her drums as forcefully as ever.

The riveting “Indignation” opens with a gossamer melody, conjuring pastoral revolts and anonymous religious uprisings, ghosts that haunt shady copses where brutal murders took place. We’re reminded that God, or the so-called sacred, has consistently been commodified by those in power, used, along with economic and political “redlining”, as a psychological and social constraint by which to dominate a populace, particularly minorities. Reed and Nehill then make an about-face, Reed’s guitar tearing and ripping the sonic field, Nehill providing clangorous accents. Again, the piece seems to unfold organically, the duo driven by feeling and chemistry, operating like poets responding to a prompt from Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, or Anita Heiss’s anthology, Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia. The mix gains in intensity, D//D offering minor releases, though never a full-out catharsis, which would be incongruent with their aesthetic and sociopolitical vision.

Minori Sanchiz-Fung makes an appearance, as they did on Gas Lit and 2017’s Basic, contributing an eloquent commentary on the negatives of capitalism, the fragile state of humanitarianism, and the enduring effects of hatred. Reed and Nehill give ambient and textural support, occasionally bringing to mind Kurt Cobain’s collaborations with William Burroughs. The album ends with “Desire”, which again mines a pseudo-pastoral template, moving between mournful and more ebullient segments, Reed and Nehill elegizing the broken world while perhaps dreaming of new possibilities.

D//D’s music stirs a general sense of discontent and outrage. Reed and Nehill, however, are activists as much as, if not more than musicians. Systemic, like their previous projects, is best considered in a socio-sonic context, in conjunction with their supplementary and clearly focused manifestos. Taken as a political, activistic, and aesthetic hybridization, Reed and Nehill’s work is fiercely confrontive, a treatise on humankind’s penchant for cruelty, its evolutionary missteps, but also its opportunities for redemption.