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The Asthmatic

by | Aug 7, 2020

The Asthmatic
Strange Tongues

The history of popular music is studded with artists who honed their craft while struggling with childhood illness. Joni Mitchell developed her chops while stricken with polio. Hank Williams was born with spina bifida. Both wrote timeless songs about pain. Sigrid Harmon, who performs as The Asthmatic, was born with chronic lung disease, yet she’s among the most powerfully expressive vocalists you’ll ever hear. On her latest release, Strange Tongues, Harmon’s remarkable abilities are on stunning display. Over resolutely inorganic soundscapes (computers, samplers and synths), she taps into another plane of existence that’s only vaguely similar to our own. Her vocal stylings give us glimpses at her record collection, shifting between Bjork’s contemplative sing-speak, Sinead O’Connor’s searching high notes and Billie Holiday’s hypnotic syncopation. Yet what Harmon’s saying — and the sounds she and production partner Michael McInnis create — defies easy or familiar reference. “Wringing bands around my fingers and wrists / Freakin’ co-workers out with my purple hand,” Harmon croons over ominous synth strings on “It’s Believed,” one of several long-form improvisations she dreamt up for this album. The lyrics and instrumentation challenge us to let go of logic and tangible things, to slip out of our corporeal form. “I had the mumps / It was like a sweat lodge in my face,” Harmon says on “True Crime” over another dissonant orchestral apocalypse. These surreal tales are like fever-induced deliriums. Paired with spare, avant-garde electronic compositions reminiscent of Scott Walker’s late-period work, the effect is like an arthouse horror flick, freaking us out in an unforgettable, transportive way.

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