Amardeep Singh Dhillon reviews Critique + Prosper by Ecka Mordecai, released under Takuroku, Cafe Oto’s digital label supporting artists in lockdown.

Ecka Mordecai’s debut is a strange creature. Disorientating, dissociative and un-polished, its magnetism is rooted in conspicuous absences – of rhythm, of melody and of ego. Critique + Prosper feels less like the stamp of a new artist on the scene than of a series of choice snapshots, chosen not for their coherence but for their breadth.

5. Did Begun (extract) © and ℗ Ecka Mordecai

It’s hard to place Mordecai in terms of genre. Most of the album is comprised of arrangements of cello riffs, murmured vocals and sound objects I can only guess at (Track 6, “Show up or shut up” is giving me strong “pebbles being dropped into water and scooped out repeatedly” vibes). There are hints of neo-folk, of blues (in the vocal improvisations), but overall the album couldn’t remotely be called either one. Mordecai is minimalist and restrained. Mordecai is chaotic and undisciplined. Mordecai is palatable – but not comfortably so (and that’s not a criticism).

The most interesting parts of Critique + Prosper sound like a conversation between the micro and the macro, with pretty riffs struggling to articulate joy in the face of an alienating sonic expanse. “Show up or shut up” is a case in point.

6. Show up or shut up (extract) © and ℗ Ecka Mordecai

Opening with howling wind, rumbling thunder and a lilting minor melody, it’s the most powerful piece by a mile, encouraging the kind of solipsistic introspection that would make you, personally, the ideal choice for lead in the next BBC adaption of a Sally Rooney novel.

Another stand-out track is Hot tarmax, lasting little over a minute, that manages somehow to tease out desire and distress in equal measure. The rough bowing is grating, uncomfortable, with overlaid breathy murmurs giving way to haunting vocal riffs. It’s gritty and sensual, evoking a creaky bed frame and friction between bodies, and ends far too soon (I’m still not convinced its short span isn’t an incredibly subtle sex joke).

3. Hot tarmax (extract) © and ℗ Ecka Mordecai

Taken as a whole, the album feels uncentred — Track 4, Critique + Prosper, with its 12-minute playtime too meandering to focus the collection, is the closest it comes to having an anchor. In this extended track, the anxiety engineered by the addition of scratch-tone bowing to the more memorable plucked riffs doesn’t subside but becomes familiar, feeding into the album’s wider musical framework of anticipation and delayed gratification. This doesn’t feel accidental.

4. Critique + Prosper (extract) © and ℗ Ecka Mordecai

With this as with all art right now, it’s impossible to escape the context of the current pandemic when listening to Mordecai’s new release. Stuck in lockdown for months, looking to an uncertain future while busy dreaming of the past, many of us have ourselves been uncentred, unanchored, left in limbo. Along with the rest of the world, we’re living in continual anticipation with no clear sense of what it is we should be anticipating. Critique + Prosper reflects this faithfully, touching on fear, desire and hope — ultimately, it’ll be up to each listener to decide if the concluding fireworks of the final track are purely a declaration of joy, or if they mask the growing unease of the streets below.

Written, performed, recorded and produced by Ecka Mordecai. Mastered by Miles Whittaker. Artwork design by Oliver Barrett

You can buy the record here – 50% of profits support the artist and 50% support Cafe Oto.

Amardeep Singh Dhillon is a London-based bartender and freelance journalist. He’s an editor at Red Pepper and Ruthless Magazine, writing on music and politics, and a founding member of South London Bartenders Network.

Follow him on Twitter @amardeepsinghd.