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L’Rain with Duffy x Uhlmann

Saturday, May 4 2024
doors at 7:30pm
$18 advance
$22 day of show
$2 off for SPACE members

L’Rain, the alias of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Taja Cheek, makes her SPACE debut, blending R&B, gospel, electronica, indie-rock, ambient and orchestral music into an eclectic sound with melodies that swing and delve deep into an adventurous, emotionally resonant core.

L’Rain’s artistic evolution eschews overarching narratives. Multi-layered in subject and form, L’Rain’s sonic explorations interrogate instead how multiplicities of emotion and experience intersect with identity. The experimental and the hyper-commercial; the expectation and the reality; the hope and the despair. L’Rain is searching for balance in the obliteration of binary logic.

L’Rain is the musical project of multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and curator, Taja Cheek. Alongside Andrew Lappin and Ben Chapoteau-Katz, she has developed L’Rain into a shape-shifting entity that blurs the distinction between band and individual. At once personal and collaborative, it mirrors the journey that brought L’Rain into being to begin with. 

Growing up in Brooklyn, Cheek found her feet at the centre of a vibrant DIY community in the first half of the 2010s, playing noise music and hosting concerts in her basement with the likes of Dreamcrusher and TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone.

If noise music represented a release from the constraints of her classical training, the loops and samples she admired in bands like Animal Collective liberated Cheek to make music on her own terms. Using her voice to work up ideas recorded with her iPhone microphone, she uploaded sonic fragments onto Soundcloud to share with friends and early collaborators like Andrew Lappin.

Beginning as an abstract meditation on grief, Cheek traces the origins of L’Rain to the period which followed the dissolution of her musical community and the passing of her mother, Lorraine. The name L’Rain was conceived as both a tribute to her mother and her own gregarious alter ego L’ (lah-postrophe), and one which she subsequently tattooed onto her arm.

Fascinated by the collisions of hi- and lo-fi technology, she teased out the crunched aesthetics from the equipment that was available to her, playing with home-spun recording approaches alongside professional recording techniques on her self-titled 2017 debut album L’Rain, which has been described as a form of “psychic collage”.

In the years that followed, Cheek began working more closely with Lappin and Ben Chapoteau-Katz, who have become invaluable collaborators as part of the L’Rain project,  guiding Cheek in the expression of her voice, both on record and in a live setting. “Ben and Andrew are my closest collaborators and confidants”, she explains, embracing the project’s potential to challenge the foundations of what a band can be.

Probing notions of change on what would become her 2021 album, Fatigue, Cheek supplemented her vocals with an array of instruments, including guitar, bass, synth, keyboards, percussion, and various effect pedals and plugins, assembling a cast of twenty collaborators, to formalise a more collective idea of creative practice.

Released into a context of a global pandemic, systemic inequality, and the continued violence against Black people at the hands of the state, Fatigue explored simultaneity of human emotion – audacity in the wake of grief, disappointment in the face of accomplishment – at once asking questions of both herself and her listeners.

Critically acclaimed by NPR, named album of the year in The Wire magazine and #2 in Pitchfork’s best albums of 2021, Fatigue propelled L’Rain towards a new audience, while further cementing her place within experimental and art institutional spaces. And yet, equally inspired by gospel and ‘90s R&B, and touring with Black Midi and Animal Collective, Cheek is conscious of not allowing this narrative to dominate.

“I’m not really interested in being separate from the world,” she explains, pointing to new album I Killed Your Dog as a way to bring the project back to earth. “I’m envisioning a world of contradictions, as always,” Cheek explains. “Sensual, maybe even sexy, but terrifying, and strange.”

Written amidst heartbreaks from the perspective of an earned maturity, I Killed Your Dog is described as an “anti-break-up” record. It takes the universal pop theme of love as its starting point – bold, bratty and even a touch diabolical – and inspects it through the form of a conversation with her younger self, untangling her relationship with femininity and the formal musical conventions that others have come to expect of her. 

A crystallization of L’Rain’s tactile approach to song-writing, the album is also an implicit interrogation of the electric dreams and failures of early synthesizers, toying openly with rock music tropes, the lineage of folk as Black music in America and Cheek’s own background playing in experimental guitar bands.

Joining Cheek’s regular collaborators Andrew Lappin and Ben Chapoteau-Katz (who also play in the live band) are other musicians that perform in the live iteration of the project, Zachary Levine-Caleb, Justin Felton and Timothy Angulo, taking the sonic world laid out by L’Rain in 2021’s album Fatigue on a compelling new trajectory.

With a band comprised of regular collaborators Andrew Lappin and Ben Chapoteau-Katz, alongside Zachary Levine-Caleb, Justin Felton and Timothy Angulo, L’Rain are taking the sonic world of 2021’s Fatigue on a compelling new trajectory.

Through her curatorial work with NYC institutions like Creative Time, the High Line and MoMA PS1 where she was a performance curator for several years, Cheek has also explored the terms on which creative work is presented – extending a theme which resonates with her concerns as a musician. As she said in an interview with Pitchfork in 2021, “I’m hyper-aware of how marketing and packaging happens for Black people and women and Black women […] I like feeling a sense of agency in how those stories are told.” Interested in engaging DIY arts organizations, she cultivates a collaborative approach to curation, seeking out the surprise element that emerges from dialogue between cultural communities. From those early basement noise sessions to her curatorial work with major NYC arts institutions, Cheek has also found herself on the other side of the creative process, developing a fluid relationship between her curatorial work and that of her own musical practice.

Pieced together like snippets of found sound, L’Rain is edging towards a practice that resists disciplinary categorization and instead reflects the messiness of the self in all its fullness. 

Blurring the limits between speed and slowness, Meg Duffy (guitar) and Greg Uhlmann (guitar) communicate in velocities, underwriting each other’s peaks and flurries as they ache toward a mutual horizon. These one-take improvisations, recorded in Uhlmann’s brothers’ house on a borrowed tape recorder, unfold like a game of truth or dare. Their constant motif is an unceasing return, a steady heartbeat they mutually commit to, knowing when one wanders off, the other will either follow or call them home. Here, flushness overrides order, each note saunters by like initials etched into tree bark: a devotion both passing and eternal.

After playing in Perfume Genius and Hand Habits, Duffy and Uhlmann embarked on their first record together, Doubles. A testament to the wordlessness of their musical intimacy, Duffy and Uhlmann take up the guitar in order to make an imprint of the slowness and presence of their improvisational practice. They weave together a sonic meditation, embracing intuition and relying on trust. Side A of Doubles consists of two guitars in conversation: looping feelings, braiding sound, blowing kisses, and finishing each other’s sentences. Less of an echo and more of nod, the songs unfold in radical, mutual witnessing. Refraining from any over dubs or edits on the final tracks, the immediacy of the compositions makes it feel like we are in the room with them.

Where Side A establishes a glistening intimacy, Side B takes on the tone of sonic scavenging, incorporating sounds from their past year of touring together. Taking the self as source material, the second half of the album dismantles the presence of Side A in order to incorporate the tactility of memory. Using samples from the road and from the world, these compositions are a scrap book of glued and chopped up sound. When I listen, I feel the crunchiness and static of being-in-the-world as it is mediated by time. Without us knowing, our devices capture sounds we may have missed the first time around. And they land like a sucker punch, snapping us back to the present, tuning our attention to what surrounds us.

True presence in any given moment is one of the most difficult things to cultivate and sustain. When it is offered, I treasure it like a rare gift. Listening to Doubles, I sink into the generosity of Duffy and Uhlmann’s offerings. In songs like “Glacial Fanfare,” I whisper to myself: it hurts now and it’s gonna hurt more, but then it’s gonna stop hurting. In “Euphoric Recall,” I understand how even the worst storms can offer gentleness. In “Braid,” I know trust is about bodies in contact, feet hitting the ground day after day. I return to the urgent question posed in the title of the track: “Which One Is You?” The answer is a low steady bass marked by chaotic and bright fluctuations of sound. The sonic response leaves me knowing: Both. All.

The intimacy in these songs dances like shadows – providing relief even as they slip away. I want to put this music in my pocket and hold it in my palm like a worn down stone. Duffy and Uhlmann give us a sweet rawness that reverberates even once the song is over, hitting the body the very moment words fall away.

🕯️ This weekend only! The dance show of the summer is Scapegoat Garden’s Liturgy|Order|Bridge. The Hartford-based company calls upon Black church traditions and ideas of faith, nature, fashion, and experimentation in their limited performance run June 20-22. Tickets available now, presented by SPACE at Mechanics’ Hall. 🕯️