Album Review: Fay Kueen, A Place Called Home Is Not A Place

place called home is not a place

“After Sandy” opens Fay Kueen’s debut album A Place Called Home Is Not A Place with whimsical nostalgia. A muted piano tingles like a distant memory as an electronic hiss swirls around it. Kueen’s voice is distant, enveloped in a quiet chaos. She croons, “To believe it never fade away/To pretend it never fall apart,” searching for tangibility and hunting for the truth within a warped recollection.

Kueen is a composer and performer who wears many hats: she composes experimental new works for a variety of instrumentations, co-founded genre-blending chamber rock group Invisible Anatomy, scores films, and more. On A Place Called Home Is Not A Place, she creates a surrealist world of experimental pop; her voice plaintively echoes over urgent instrumentations as she narrates the disorienting experience of feeling lost. 

While the opening of the album leaves more to be desired in its placid sincerity, the latter half unfolds into an exploration of the mystery of the inner psyche. During its robust titular song, dark, alternating piano chords pulsate in syncopation while hints of electric guitar and distant background vocals ripple through a soundscape shrouded by cloudy electronics. The piece was written in Boston throughout a period of severe upset — a struggle with immigration status and the horrific 2013 marathon bombing — and the sound of inner mayhem is palpable. Here, Kueen slowly melts away: “My blood turns into sea water/My hair turns into seaweed.” As she dissolves into oblivion, the musical accompaniment becomes subsumed in darkness. Volume finally reaches forte, and electronics plod with persistent rhythmic certainty.

“Larpo Neptune” follows with a decidedly lighter touch, but the atmosphere is eerie. The opening melody — a fast-paced, ascending synthesizer — rings with an unclear sense of tonality, and glitchy electronics run wild as drums beat a quirky pace. Kueen’s voice maintains its breathy stability, but it’s tainted with a sense of paranoia.

Displacement is a central theme of the collection. Kueen has spent her life scattered across cities and continents — Beijing, Boston, New York. Her conception of home isn’t singular, and here, she grapples with that multiplicity. Written in a time of turmoil, A Place Called Home Is Not A Place is a musical journey towards understanding the meaning of security when security is a rug easily pulled out from underneath you. On “Bunny Bastard,” which depicts a nightmare, tonal dissonance appears in full force as static electronics and slithering chromaticism churn underneath Kueen’s haunting vocals. She leans into this unsettled texture by whispering and sliding between notes, often choosing acidic annunciation. 

The record soon ends where it began: “Before Sandy” takes the same music and lyrics as “After Sandy,” but expands through a more prominent use of electronics. The music is strong-willed this time around, as glitchy robotic tones fade in and out and layer between the original theme, a throbbing beat, and techno synths. There’s resolution in the album’s circular nature, but there’s no cadential finality. Instead, the sound withers away into eternity, vibrating back into the void it emerged from.

 

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