For a hot minute in late 2011, it seemed like Tri-Angle Records was turning into the ‘10s version of James’ Murphy’s DFA Records: a boutique label that slowly built up a potent roster of zeitgeist capturing musicians staking their claim on the future of dance music’s soul. And while DFA became a clearinghouse for the best dance punk NYC had to offer at the turn of the century, Tri-Angle founder Robin Carolan focused mostly on corralling an international group of under the radar artists plying their trade in variations of severely abstracted dubstep, house, R&B, and general EDM. (The label currently boasts Holy Other, How To Dress Well, Clams Casino, and Balam Acab among its talent.)
San Francisco native Chris Dexter Greenspan and his oOoOO project (pronounced “Oh”) illustrated the minimalist, enigmatic, and casually ominous aesthetic of Tri-Angle best with the stunning narco-disco banger “Hearts” from his 2011 self-titled debut EP. It’s a deceptive, disturbing track that sounds like “Heart of Glass” on Ketamine: all off-key distorted synths, burpy, meandering bass lines, and a female lead vocal that’s pushed back mixed and feels more ghostly than alluring.
Greenspan’s 2012 EP Our Love is Hurting Us plays even more dark and refracted than oOoOO; scraping away any unexpected residual euphoria that could be left over (or even enjoyed) from “Hearts” or the melting slow jam “Burnout Eyes.” It’s an eerie, unforgiving collection of tracks, dripping with the ethereal doom of witch house, and injecting a harrowing cacophony of down-tempo synths and samples into an already moody sonic palette. Vocals are dissected, slowed down, or simply indecipherable and the production is a cavernous haunted house of electronic blips and squelches, disorienting echo, and shattered drum beats. It’s a testament to Greenspan’s sense of composition, then, that Our Love never becomes overwhelmed by its own shadows. These tracks gasp and lurch forward like zombies on heroin, sure, but there’s enough intrigue and melody in the darkness for this music to remain compelling.
Two of the five tracks, album opener “Try Try” and “Starr,” basically share the same strung-out, demented brain. Wrapped in evil splatters of John Carpenter electronics and skittering break beats (although the latter features a druggy guitar solo to boot), both tracks lean on terrifying central vocal parts that resemble a poltergeist disintegrating. “Springs Feat. Butterclock” is similarly treacherous, but evolves into a seductive, hypnotic piece of trance-pop thanks to Nevada-native Butterclock’s (Lauren Clock) suitably gorgeous voice. Her talents are put to devastating use on the EP’s best track, “NoWayBack,” where Greenspan crafts the least fractured composition on the release.
Keeping a fragile (although still spooky) synth line in step with a consistent, hard hitting drum part allows Butterclock’s vocals to soar and change shape. The chorus (“Ooohh/There’s no way back”) resembles the melodramatic final line of an ’80s slasher film, but Clock’s delivery makes it unclear whether she’s the victim or the killer. And that sort of ambiguity is one of Greenspan’s most valuable assets. The music of oOoOO is troublingly dark, but it’s dark as in “murky.” In the best horror films, it’s not easy to see the villain.