Review: Ghost Dance – 1000 Instances of Grief (FTAM, Aug 20)

Important note: if at all possible please listen to the album at least once before you read the review. I don’t want to rob anyone of the experience of hearing it for the first time.

It doesn’t take much time into “Carlisle Indian Industrial School” to realize that 1000 Instances of Grief, the first full-length from Indigenous noisemaker Travis Dodge’s Ghost Dance project, is something very different from the gnashing direct-action power electronics of Indian Babies: How to Keep Them Well. Most of the opening track relies on audio from Rebecca Nagle’s This Land docu-podcast, in which Nagle explores both systemic and direct injustice toward Native people in the U.S. (in this case, she gives an account of a memorialist visit to the titular historical site). The simple delay effect placed on her otherwise unprocessed speech seems strangely banal at first, but soon the overlapping echoes take on a certain kind of unity, loosely knitting into a chorus in the past’s looming shadow, and it becomes clear what 1000 Instances really is: an elegy. All the abject grief and weary rage of generations upon generations living and dead saturate the closing burst of contact mic scrabble, erupting without warning once Nagle most directly states the true nature of Carlisle and countless institutions like it; it’s a truly indescribable and unforgettable moment.

Unsurprisingly, the rest of the disc is full of many more of those: the breaks into haunted ambience before the noise escalates into full-fledged vocal assault on “Kamloops”; the brief “Unmarked Grave” and its aching, almost lifeless dirge; the many cuts and collapses of “ALM,” titled after a Navajo–Cherokee child whose adoption by a white family opened new avenues for state-sanctioned genocide. The hypnotic traditional chant featured in Indian Babies‘ “Against the Liquor Curse” reappears in the concluding “No Pride in Genocide,” once again buried beneath layers of distortion and choppy digital artifacting; in part, the crude but affecting soundscape paints an aural simulacrum of the profound cultural erasure leveled against Native people throughout history, which the remainder of the track subjects to a varied, expertly executed gauntlet of good old-fashioned PE destruction. By no means an easy listen… but this is important and essential music.

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