In the past decade, electronic artists have been fascinated with deconstructing the myth of the diva, reconfiguring its mold into strange, uncontainable new forms. Arca pulled apart the archetype’s entrails to find the machinery buzzing underneath. SOPHIE took a magnifying glass to its perfect skin, finding even more beauty to behold at the surface. And Yves Tumor has reveled in its haunted sexuality, plumbing its sinister lore in search of sick rock’n’roll pleasures. But amid all the bludgeoning club beats and mysterious dark magic, there’s hardly been room for anything resembling innocence. In a sea of uncanny angels, few have attempted to stare directly into the light.
On the infinite spine, Lauren Auder lets it in. Following a series of EPs on which the British-French producer blueprinted her iridescent orchestral pop, the infinite spine cracks her vision wide open. Deploying strings, horns, and choruses so dazzling they can take a second to adjust to, Auder crafts a kind of inverted goth pop, as if her gloomy songs have been shot through a photo negative, coming out impossibly bright. One can still hear the smudged, floating ethereality she brought to her early SoundCloud rap beats for the likes of Jeshi and Slowthai, but Auder centers her stark, hauntingly deep voice above everything else, boldly leading us through her tales of hard-won grace.
Throughout the infinite spine, Auder approaches her subjects as tenderly as a child cradling a porcelain doll. “118-madonna” takes flight amid pillowy woodwinds and French horns, though Auder subverts its life-affirming march with a knowing sense of tragedy. Evoking imagery of Britney Spears and JonBenét Ramsey, Auder casts a vignette of lost innocence against her own ongoing narrative of coming to terms with being trans. “Hell is a body in which I no longer can hide,” she sings, imbuing the song with a twofold frailty, its sweetness threatened to be consumed by darker forces.
Auder fills these tracks with references both biblical and historical, drawing particular inspiration from the Cathars, a medieval religious sect from her hometown of Albi, France that challenged the Catholic Church with its belief in the femininity of the divine. While the infinite spine’s lyricism may be dense, its songwriting is immediate: the hammering pianos of “city in a bottle” sweep Auder off her feet with a joyous theatricality, while the downbeat steel drums of “equus” contrast sumptuously against Auder’s twisting, ailed croon. Her confessions call to mind a history of bracingly direct queer singer-songwriters, with wisps of ANOHNI, Rufus Wainwright, and Perfume Genius percolating in her warbled baritone. She even embraces a degree of cheesy 2000s pop—when she breathily sings about “sitting in the back of a taxi car” on the sweeping “we2assume2many2roles,” you’d be forgiven for getting visions of Jack’s Mannequin and Vanessa Carlton.
Though Auder’s utilization of these nostalgic sounds could come off as calculated, she incorporates them with a natural ease, as if it were a perfectly logical next step for experimental music. Nothing on the infinite spine screams “hyperpop,” yet the album feels of a piece with its sensibilities; the sound of club music, pop, and all manner of 21st-century detritus commingling in a warm celebration of sincerity. The most blatant posturing comes in the more straightforwardly emo “the ripple,” whose chugging post-punk bass and Lil Peep-via-King Krule vocal barks strike the album’s least convincing note. Surrounded by so many moments that convey devastation with a wilted elegance, a loud wall of guitars just isn’t as powerful.
For all its fearlessly large pop moves, the infinite spine is surprisingly challenging. To truly appreciate its intense, earnest vulnerability requires a certain receptivity. But Auder’s songs have a way of burrowing in and flowering slowly, revealing their shimmering hooks and naked self-confrontation with a gentle, assured confidence. “Things have got pretty fucking bad in the public space for trans people,” she told NME last month. “We tried to integrate in a way that confirmed to cis expectations and that was clearly a failed mission.…[B]ut there’s hope in that. There’s a freeing notion in knowing that it was never about fitting in. It makes me want to double down on being true to myself because there’s no other way.” In its open-heartedness, the infinite spine emanates glowing self-acceptance—a light to nourish and protect.
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