When “STILLBIRTH” pummeled us 2 years ago it was exactly what I wasn’t expecting to hear. At that point, still very post-Crystal Castles (and the fallout from it only getting uglier), we weren’t hearing much from Alice Glass at all. The track thrashed like staccato shock-therapy, leaving no room for connection to her past music history. Ironic, since it came with a massive spillage of her own traumatic past, with promises of a “lullaby” to follow.
Now, again after a lengthy silence, we’re pummeled with the “Alice Glass” EP. And it’s exactly what I wasn’t expecting to hear. Sure enough, a 4-note lullaby tugs us into the first single “Without Love”, where a slick beat flickers beneath coy cry-for-help lyrics—“sold myself to him, be your own victim, and with this bondage, tie myself down”. The bridge then slides into dangerously catchy territory, which may signal some alarms for fans of her STILLBIRTH-y wrath (like me). After all, she herself said in an interview with i-D magazine back in 2015 that she “…always connected more with aggressive, darker music and that’s what I want to create”. The buildup is a plea—“got to be without love”--sung both wonderfully helpless and stonily devoted until the sweeping choral crash. Glass even threads in a subtle middle-finger to her Crystal Castles past, “Tell me what to spit, don’t tell me what to swallow”, of course referencing Crystal Castles 2009 track “Tell Me What to Swallow”. “Without Love” is probably the closest Glass will ever get to a pop record, and even then she inevitably warps the sound awry. I’ve heard the terms “Industrial Pop” and “Bubble-goth” to describe this odd uncomfortably delicious niche she’s carved.
While figuring this out, “Forgiveness” slips in. The beat is all predatory snarl. Glass’ voice buoys seamlessly, a periodic blare sounds out like a faint warning of going too far. When the pillowy synth lift-off takes over, we’re lured up and out from the beat like bait. Regrettably, once the synth is finally pulled out beneath us, we’re left with a choppy and unaffected chorus. It’s too bad, as the song itself deals with the coping mechanism of detachment—“I'm the same as you, I have nothing, I am empty too in the right way, We don't care that no one will miss us, We don't need their blame or forgiveness”—yet I couldn’t become drawn into that emptiness, instead, the hollow inside kept me out.
If I experienced helplessness and detachment thus far, the rest of the EP literally explodes into terrorized rage beginning with “Natural Selection”. All 2 minutes 22 seconds of the track tear itself apart along a skeletal Industrial thumping. Treading along “silk covered nooses” and “are you safer now than when you’re in the dark”, erratically stepping through the dark of the song until the mammoth breakdown “Get the fuck off of me, Get the fuck out me!” against static laced silence. She leaves us there—“Scream in silence”—tensely waiting for where the song will swing next. “White Lies”, which Glass explains via her Instagram as “…about the lies people have to tell themselves to find comfort when they feel trapped being around someone that hurts them…”, veers feral, complete with a guttural purr laced throughout. She gnashes and spirals before emerging into an oasis, a brief moment of clarity in this abusive relationship “you’re afraid of what you see, victim of, this is not the voice in my head”, until the clarity becomes opaque and the vicious purr is back at our heels. The mania culminates with “Blood Oath”, which is a non-stop boot stomp. Glass’ voice is stretched into alien terrain, the sub-human feeling of being preyed upon as a teenager: “get them while they’re young, forgive and forget, pull out all their limbs, so they won’t grow back”. She leaves no room for breathing, an absolute confrontation with her past the listener cannot leave.
The entire EP is 18 minutes long, and in that time manages to detail a complex psychological narrative of isolation and abuse and terror and self-harm. The final track “The Altar” strips all this noise back. A shivering melody exhales in and out of the song, one last glimpse inside her mind: “A life of compassion feels so rehearsed, somewhere else someone else feels worse, forget to remember your own worth”. And this in turn becomes the true lullaby, tearing away self-worth because “somewhere else someone else” must have it worse, compassion as distraction, locked further into silence. It's like nothing I've heard before, and that is a triumph for an artist breaking free of a past that bound her.