Over the past few years, Phew’s creative output has travelled a path from synth experiments on Light Sleep, through ghostly vocal distortions and layers on Voice Hardcore, collaborative experiments and linguistic games with Ana da Silva on Island, and earlier this year released the limited edition cassette Vertical Jamming of what could perhaps be described as psychic landscapes of Japan in the disorientating aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, to name but a few of her recent releases and projects. This run of releases each has its own thematic concerns and processes, but they also send out spectral threads, insinuating themselves into each other, drifting layers of misty drone and vocals that twist meanings out of incomprehensibility and vice-versa, underscored by the post-punk simplicity of the synth pulses and machine or sample loop rhythms.
Drawing on the sessions from many of those albums, Vertigo KO is the latest step on that journey, but one with echoes of its predecessors making their ghostly presence felt, each step forward haunted by the same journey’s past. The layers of vocal loops on Let’s Dance Let Go, the popcorn rhythmical patter running through All That Vertigo, the time-slip to Ana da Silva’s old band The Raincoats on the cover of The Void, the atmosphere of unease, words flitting back and forth from behind the veil of comprehension. In creating this “unconscious sound sketch” of what Phew describes as “a closed and obstructive time”, there’s a captivating tension between claustrophobic or oppressive elements and the expansive, liberating sonic space that she opens up at times, and the result is an album that feels both disconcerting and quite beautiful, wrapped up in an uneasy, occasionally chilling sort of intimacy.