Elizabeth Bernholz returns with another typically unsettling, sinister and nightmarish album of uneasy listening that is impossible to ignore
The last we heard from Gazelle Twin (composer, producer, singer and visual artist Elizabeth Bernholz) was back in June earlier this year when she appeared at the Barbican as part of the celebrations around the 50th anniversary of The Wicker Man. Her performance with electronic drone choir NYX focused on their 2021 album Deep England and reconfirmed her credentials as an artist who pursues creative regeneration with clear-sighted vision and uncompromising integrity.
It’s a view that finds further corroboration on new album Black Dog, another typically unsettling, sinister and dark affair that sees her continue to carve out new artistic territory. Bernholz has explained that Black Dog is inspired by different feelings and experiences, partly an album about confronting fear but also one that considers the consequences that negative childhood experiences have later in life. Some of her previous artistic incarnations saw her appear on stage hooded and faceless but the impression on Black Dog is that there is less in the way of obfuscation (something reflected in her latest press shots, which reveal more of her own face than ever before).
It’s also something in evidence on opening track I Disappear, which showcases her startling vocal prowess. While a lot of the vocals on previous albums like Pastoral were mangled and contorted, here they have a targeted, inescapable directness. That, on this track, they are delivered over a low drone that suggests the sound of astronomical hardware slowly spiralling out of control makes it even more striking. She dials up the sense of anxiety even more on the title track which further emphasises the nightmarish feel that defines much of the album. “Tell you this dream, this dream I had, you took my heart, you ripped it clean out,” she conveys in anguished tones. It’s probably not a track you’ll be wanting to play just before bedtime.
Black Dog has less of an electronic edge than some of her other albums, instead drawing from a sonic palette focused more on bass, beats and digital projection. The fact that it manages to ramp up feelings of claustrophobia and paranoia while also reconciling a sense of space and restraint in places is impressive. Two Worlds is a case in point, barely more than Bernholz’s voice laid over synthesiser pulses and glitchy percussion but it’s disproportionately eerie and disconcerting. Fear Keeps Us Alive strikes a similar note, the silence in between the sounds assuming equal importance to the precisely positioned, surrounding sonic effects.
Unstoppable Force, with its insistent “push me, push me, shush me, shush me” vocal refrain and disquieting background melange of strings and electronics makes for more darkly fascinating uneasy listening. The sense of alarm and something having gone wrong is overpowering, a sensation that is maintained even on more minimalist, ambient pieces like This House. Final track A Door Opens sees her use piano samples based around German composer Robert Schumann’s Ghost Variations that ensure the album closes on a suitably spectral and phantasmagorical note. Black Dog might not be a comfortable listen but its unrelenting power and undisguised starkness demands attention and makes it impossible to ignore.