Top of a Halloween playlist for adult fears belongs to WEAREBISON’s self-titled debut EP. This project of Jennifer Dauphinois (Ponybird) and Rory Thomas Derwin combines Goth electronica with a quirky singer-songwriter sense of humor and social conscience to critique our world today.
While the EP’s described as growing from experiences during the pandemic, I feel like we’ve reached an inflection point as a society. A year ago, everything felt like a symbol of the pandemic. Now, the pandemic feels like a symbol of everything we are as a society.
Let’s make like bison and wallow in this EP track by track. (Bison are known for wallowing. They do it to groom. They do it to flirt. They do it to just hang out. Sometimes it gives them a dread disease. If that’s not a metaphor for our times, I don’t know what is.) Buy it on Bandcamp, and you can first listen along with the embed at the end.
After opening with an electronic riff that could equally fit the dawn of a new day or cosmic horror, this track turns into a brilliant representation of the kind of dream where you’re running but going nowhere. Feel that urgent beat under the slow-as-molasses melody that’d be sugary at an expected tempo but is horrifying as it goes (the “toxic positivity” of melodies!). “We are children in the lion’s jaws” repeats in an endless cycle, never varying in desperation. Eighteen months ago, this was the feel of the week of cascading shutdowns; now, it’s a good emotional match with pandemic burnout.
Here’s the nightmare version of a James Bond theme: driving, ambitious, and lyrically overflowing with intrigue. The ambient tension between modernist sparkling and animal wails–which overlap and shade into each other–captures for me the mood of endless risk calculation, flashes of cope-and-move-ahead ambition, and straight-up primordial fear.
Relief in Wires
This track deploys or reinvents the tropes of the cyberpunk era so thoroughly that it slammed into me consciousness of how, as a culture, we now embrace a vision of society that 30 years ago was critiqued as dystopian. The original cyberpunk movement had us informed and sedated via literal wires (the plug-in socket at the base of the skull showed up often in novels) — our phones serve the same purpose without requiring surgery.
The song starts elegiac, as an oasis from chaos, with a sedated wooziness. At the point where the lyric says we’re most soothed (“to forget about the real, to forget this space and time”), the beat and instrumentation turn urgently dystopian. For me, that’s Twitter: drop by to discuss the latest Netflix hit we all binged, get sucked into following a thread that earnestly explains why today’s news shows civilization is endangered.
A mood shift midway is those Twitter threads, all about how “things could be better but they’re not,” with that repeated “now you know.” The mood shifts in this song capture, for me, the chaotic feeling that escape is impossible and potentially irresponsible, yet necessary in the face of endless exhortations about fixing society, and yet also how following an issue on social media has weirdly replaced doing anything useful about the issue. That’s my mood: the struggle may feel different for you, and what the song does so well is capture that it’s all struggle and all precarious.
It’s lovely, it’s peaceful, it’s ambient nature music, it’s set up as a traditional album ending, with folk-rock lyrics (“love is the place where we go together”) and melody… distorted. The kaleidoscope continues through a strange rabbit hole of folk-rock idioms, as if we’re changing channels. If this is a metaphor for how “we’re all in this together” turned into an experience of fragmentation, I’m here for it.