Review: Charmaine Lee – Ggggg

Charmaine Lee’s record, Ggggg, is an unconventional exploration of noise. The first track “CHUK” gurgles and snores through what sounds like a synthesizer. Immediately, the cover makes sense. Lee’s face is pushed against a glass surface. She looks contained and uncomfortable. The sound we hear is comparable to what one might imagine a body (either animal or human) under stress to sound like. Sound scrapes against our ears, forcing its way to the listener. While I do not feel this exercise in sound is reminiscent to a “song”… one can follow the motions of what Lee is creating and notice different “textures” and “shapes” within the album.

“Mboobles” takes me back to my few times swimming in a pool as a child. Under the still, flat water blowing bubbles out my nose, I could hear and see the water moving around me if my blood shot eyes were open. This track, however, isn’t quite as calm as a child entertaining herself in the summer. There is a moment of panic as “Mboobles” comes to a close. It is as though we are stuck under a surface and are trying to get through, breathing out the last bit of air we can manage to hold. It feels urgent.

“Pink” sounds like the beginning of a hip-hop beat, then is interrupted with what sounds like kissing or gum chewing … we hear a mouth moving and Lee moaning throughout the track. Despite the intimacy of sound we hear, it does not feel impassioned, but almost involuntary. I found this to be one of the most interesting tracks on the album. “Ooeez” seems a continuation of “Pink”. Once again, we hear similar sounds coming out of a mouth. It puckers and noise squirms out of pursed lips. The variety of sounds Lee is able to create with her own mouth is impressive.

Lee creates a great variety of noise for the listener to focus on. Her ability to use the body as her medium is compelling. We hear moments that resemble a machine trembling (like on “Cheek2Chic”), water moving, and people kissing. Lee’s creativity fills the album. Her work is truly experimental and pushes us to consider what defines “music.” I realized I brought my own preconceived notions of what an album should be to this listening experience. I sat down and heard human mumbling, buzzing, screeching, and humming … This was quite different from anything else I’ve listened to in a while. When I allowed myself to be open to this work, it seemed similar to audio-video installations at contemporary galleries I’ve seen. If we want to understand, headphones go on, and expectations go out. This album should receive the same openness to sound as we give to postmodern art. Lee’s Ggggg requires our attention. It forces us to examine the boundaries of music and noise and notice the energy of banal sounds around us.

You may check out the record on Bandcamp here.

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