In her newest album, AFTERPARTY (released November 8, 2020), Rhonda Taylor brings together an eclectic set of tracks that reflect the distorted reality of our recent past. Like the New Mexico-based saxophonist’s earlier solo albums, the self-released AFTERPARTY comprises single-take experimental improvisations that Taylor subsequently processed using Ableton Live. This approach produces a wide sonic palette, varying from almost completely acoustic to unrecognizably warped.
More than the sound though, one senses the loneliness and discomfort pervading the music, the feeling that what isn’t present is just as important as what is. While solo albums aren’t uncommon, rarely do they make the absence of others so palpable as Taylor does here. There’s a sensation throughout that people used to be here, but now we are only left with traces, ghosts, and evidence of that past. We realize, as the album title might suggest, that what came before was the party—a past we are now fundamentally unable to go back to. Instead, we’re here, by ourselves, in the aftermath.
“cheers,” the opening track, begins with a winding, melancholy melody sung by Taylor that becomes increasingly transmuted into overdriven white noise by the track’s conclusion. The track reads like a siren song, calling out to draw people near, but the answer found in the music’s gradual deformation is resounding; there is no one around to attract. It is unheard, and thus unfulfilled.
Taylor’s follow-up is the aggressive, rhythmic “trash talk,” which combines saxophone, breathing, and speech into a pointillistic blend. Softer, though rhythmically tense, sections are paired with maxed-out noise as phrases dissolve into one another, sometimes with intelligible words and sometimes without. The track is powerful in its detail and vigor, growing in intensity to the hyperventilation of the three-minute mark.
Returning to the more melodic style of the opening, “searchlight” recalls the comparison of the siren song, and matching the title, is searching out for anyone who may be nearby. The answer here, like in the first track, is no one. After a lone first note, Taylor makes extensive use of multiphonics, which feel like an attempted antidote to loneliness. In the absence of anyone else to play with, she accompanies herself. Likewise, the notes are electronically extended well past their natural release, allowing Taylor further opportunity to relish in the layering of her own playing. However, these too don’t quench the isolation, and we instead are left with silence as the track dies away.
“exit interview,” the midpoint of the album, sees Taylor speaking, though often unintelligibly due to the distortion created by her saxophone. Though this track is the least electronically-modified on the entire album, it is still highly distorted, with the electronic processing of earlier replaced instead by an organic filter. However, this still leaves the essential action, speech, unanswerable, as if the words themselves don’t matter, are ignored, or perhaps, were never meant to be heard.
The acoustic distortions of “exit interview” are matched in “last call” with electronic distortions. This track, the longest of the album, features the saxophone transformed to become nearly unrecognizable, resembling more of a noise rock electric guitar. Extended outbursts of saxophone are met with moments of comparative stillness, with only slight movements and breathing audible. It feels like the fear and anger of being forced to abandon the past embodied into sound. But this response to the new conditions of life, like the others, is met with silence.
The final track of the album, “eulogy (eugoogly),” brings us back again to the realm of “cheers” and “searchlight” with its somber, subdued affect. However, the harmonies this time aren’t as sweet, with the result being all the more powerful. Made up of long sustained notes that resonate and echo endlessly, fading into and out of each other, this track isn’t searching for someone who’s not there. There is acceptance here of what has been lost, acknowledged now to make the most moving track of the album.
In total, AFTERPARTY is very of its time, in the way that art made during or directly after major world events often inescapably is, indelibly marked with the conditions of its creation. Rhonda Taylor, however, finds new meaning in treading this ground, resulting in a gripping album on the loneliness of being where people once were (“abandoned houses,” as she says in her liner notes). Her performance here is admirable. Virtuosic at times, contemplative at others, and with a surety of purpose throughout, Taylor finds personal expression in the paradoxically communal experience of being alone.
I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF.