When comparing The Quickening and 12, the first and last tracks on Rabit’s third studio album, Life After Death, it’s hard to get a sense of journey. Or themes for that matter. From the crying synthesised pines directing a parade into the abyss, to the dancing piano drowning in processed sound, your guess is as good as mine. But that’s the point isn’t it. The meaning is all yours but you’ll have to find it yourself.
We caught up with Rabit a few weeks before the record’s release to talk about the album, its reception and his progression.
The opportunity to write an album is a privilege. This sentiment passed from Bjork to Rabit during the making of his first industry album, 2015’s Communion. “I took a lot from that comment to heart because, in some ways, that gave me the energy to do what I wanted to do, even if it’s not going to be the flavour of the month. To do what I think is important to complete the story… I felt stunted but it’s been a process of realising that I am independent, which is kind of overwhelming but empowering. I have more say of what happens but it is somewhat more chaotic.”
And for someone who regularly refers to his own music as experiments, it is easy to see why Rabit is at odds with the industry. “Once you see it you can’t unsee it”, the Houston-based musician muses with a degree of frustration. “Sometimes you feel forced to follow a process for the sake of it, even if a set of parameters were not working.” Rapid additions to his back catalogue in recent years almost seems to be a direct response to this, as these releases often contain unreleased material, developed and processed over a number of years. Seemingly discarded by the linearity of the industry model.
But even these releases seem isolating in some ways. He is careful to make a clear distinction between industry albums, that maintain the narrative of his experimental noise music, and mix-tapes, or ‘street albums’, which are more fluid in influence and permit a degree of spontaneity. Mix-tape culture is common in the rap music culture from his hometown, and the genre more widely. But placed in the context of leftfield noise, where reference points tend to be steeped in electronica, this divide in material is much less common, and not all that comparable or defined.
That’s not to say Rabit has this same relationship with his listeners. He is adamant that Life after Death has no clear themes, with the focus instead on encouraging listeners to summon their own meaning. “I wouldn’t venture to try and describe the album, as that is kind of useless because it’s different for everyone… there really wasn’t much importance attached to the notion of themes, beyond the overall concept. Once I found a working title I felt comfortable with, everything kind of fell into place because the music was already done.”
Resistance to definition is common among artists, of all media. But, Life After Death seems to follow the trajectory of his previous studio albums. From the ‘earthy, abrasive’ textures of Communion, to the gloomy sullen introversion of 2017’s Les Fleurs Du Mal, the record goes higher to explore all manner of soundscapes and moods; from the heady vistas on III and Dream through to the sound of swirling ocean beds on eX.
Forcing active listening could also be seen as isolating, but perhaps it’s about making his music more accessible? Think about it, leftfield noise music is fairly niche. An acquired taste, only enjoyed through the collection of enough obscure reference points, or memorising field recording locations to slip into pub chat? “The specificity scares some people. In some ways, that’s the standard trope of noise music or left-field experimental music – if you don’t have all the background, you worry it might not make sense.”
Rabit is quick to point out that the artwork’s clouded symbolism, co-developed with artist and friend, Christian Velasquez, mirrors this point. ‘I didn’t want to overly classify the sleeve, in the same way as the music – I wanted to represent a feeling which could be anything to anyone.’ So by presenting the album without context, Rabit strives to democratise a sound that’s so often thought to be preserved for electronica’s self-titled intelligencia.
But whether you like it or not, can you really have music without context? While aiming for simplification, a maker’s circumstance will always get in the way. Sure enough, in and amongst the album are percussive interludes soaked in subversion; a subtle commentary on humanity, and Trump’s oily compass, hand in hand with Rabit’s purposefully blank canvas. “While this album wasn’t overtly political, [the interludes] were my subversive content. It has a commentary but it’s not direct… Living in America right now can really drive a person insane because the messages are so mixed. And we have a president who is a total criminal. I think those aspects of the album were a way for me to acknowledge the situation. My previous projects have been more explicitly political. In some ways, this album is me dealing with those things in a more mature way.”
Again, while the album sleeve seems vague, you can’t use religious icons without conjuring an emotional response. “I feel like it is important to know what symbols do. Because that’s why religion has been successful – it’s a manipulation of people’s deepest fears – that’s the only reason why it still exists. So it’s good to get people to notice these things.”
Moving from creating to appropriating, we touch briefly on the Drake ‘culture vulture’ issue from early 2018. Rabit laughs “It didn’t ever get resolved… basically you can steal any design. The only way you have ownership of something is if you hand drew the font. So it doesn’t matter about the colour, or the combinations of ideas… It was a learning experience for sure but I figured it would be fun to rout him out for doing it.”
Talking about the album and its conception, Rabit answers in a considered way, like Life After Death has been mulled over for some time, and put in exactly the right place. The same is true when we talk about sharing the album. Something that he hasn’t attached many targets or goals to. “Sometimes you can tell by the music that ends up being released what it is serving. For me, the important thing is to fulfil whatever the album is trying to be. Obviously I would like to reach loads of people, but getting the album out in a way that keeps its dignity is also important.”
Beyond the initial release, there is an unresolved question about whether to tour the record at all, with Rabit happy to admit he doesn’t always feel at home on stage. “I’m not really sold on doing shows. I think I am realising where I get joy from is not always to do with being public, it could be on production side… one thing I learned is [an event] needs to be right. The music isn’t for everyone and until I feel like I am in the right environment to do it I am not ready to go there.
This is fair enough, considering pundits and journos alike have approached Rabit publically after shows, demanding answers. “There were people that were angry [and approaching us in public and demanding answers, like journalists and stuff.”
Plans to share music through his own imprint, Halcyon Veil, and potentially executive produce a pop record are also in steady supply. Albums from IVVVO, Jesse Osborne-Lanthier and an unnamed London-based producer are all coming up on the label. The latter of which will not be mastered, so the record is heard from the fingers of the creator. And this really screams at the through-line of all this. Rabit is increasingly content with doing his own thing, regardless of anything, whether that be writing song albums, mixtapes, or something in between. And he has enough interest, skill and support to do that, dignity intact.
Words: Nick Moore
Life After Death is out now on Halcyon Veil.
Catch Rabit performing twice this weekend at Unsound Festival in Poland.
More info and tickets available here.
A Remix EP of Life After Death will be by the end of 2018, with full details to be revealed soon.