Spin Doctor: Feeling fatigued

Welcome to Spin Doctor, a biweekly dose of music reviews and recommendations by Yardena Carmi ’23.

By Yardena Carmi

Pia Contreras

If one were looking for a word to sum up 2021 so far, “fatigue” would be a good candidate. It is also a fitting title for the second album from classically-trained polymath L’Rain, a New York City native and associate curator at the nonprofit arts center MoMA PS1 by day. A sonic collage of samples, field recordings, woozy compositions and wordless interludes, “Fatigue” is a contemplation of the hard work of healing and recovery in the aftermath of loss and an album I was grateful to have in my life this past summer as I was beginning my own relationship with grief.

L’Rain’s experimental approach plucks sounds from across genres, creating a lush new sound to complement her surreal lyrics. At the same time, her vocal delivery and adept production wrings every drop of meaning from her words. Where words fail, she makes liberal use of noise and distortion. As album opener “Fly, Die” stutters to a start, L’Rain’s voice echoes across a seemingly great distance. Punctuated with sirens and airguns, the track is a manifesto for self-confidence, protecting your time and the power of adaptation. “What have you done to change?” she asks through jarring distortions as the song winds down into the next track, “Find It.”

Here is where the melodic side of L’Rain’s songwriting is revealed. “Find It” is a gentle groove that has the listener chasing the singer’s thoughts as they float over crisp drums and distant vocal harmonies. She introduces the album’s main throughline, the loss of her mother Lorraine, who inspired her stage name, in 2017. A swelling horn line builds to a cathartic blare of organs and snippets of a preacher speaking, a recording of a friend’s funeral taken by the artist.

“Fatigue” is a sonic landscape in which joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin, and its subject matter ranges from the depths of grief to exuberant, life-affirming moments. Interludes like “Black Clap” and “Love Her” are less-so compositions than documentation of the people, spaces and histories that hold meaning for the artist. L’Rain’s democratic approach to art layers studio sound with at-home recordings and voice memos, medium and audio quality itself becoming more tools with which to texture her songs.

This unique musical approach is exemplified on album standout “Blame Me.” L’Rain’s voice and plucked guitar are deceptively simple against a dense mat of synths, distortion and background vocals; the track is underlaid by a barely-perceptible recording of her mother’s voice. Dealing directly with her late mother’s illness, the repeated lyrical phrase “You were wasting away, my god / I’m making my way down south” rings in my mind for hours after every time I hear it.

While a good portion of “Fatigue” is not exactly easy listening, compositionally or emotionally, the songs at the album’s core go hard. Jazz-infused “Suck Teeth” is chill and spacey, impossible not to bob your head along to, even as its lyrics explore the musician’s anxieties about motherhood. Mid-album highlight “Kill Self” couches the intensity of its sentiment in a pulsing club beat as L’Rain sings in off-kilter harmony with herself. While the song is about cyclical self doubt and being your own worst enemy, it also anticipates and embraces the inevitability of recovery as part of those cycles. Sonically, it gives me the feeling of flies circling my head, in the best way. L’Rain’s double-tracked vocals shine further on “Two Face,” a piano-driven meditation on loneliness.

The last words of “Fatigue” are “I am not prepared for what is going to happen to me,” a statement loaded with fear and uncertainty. At the same time, the way L’Rain sings it is a near-ecstatic embrace of the unknown. Through music that is by turns dense and sparse, claustrophobic and expansive, L’Rain crafts a moving account of life after loss and a deeply introspective look at personal growth and change.