ALBUM: Moor Mother – ‘Black Encyclopedia Of The Air’

Following 2016’s Fetish Bones, Camae Ayewa – aka Moor Mother – has since been wowing fans with 2017’s The Motionless Present and 2020’s innovative project with Swedish musician Olof Melander, Anthologia, which raised money for disability justice. Now, following much critical acclaim, she is set to release a poignant new album – once again recorded with Melander. In short, Black Encyclopedia of the Air is a remarkably unique and absorbing collection, constituting a scattered and beguiling exploration of idiosyncratic ideas and reflections on modern life.

We open in a free-floating sound realm – ‘Temporal Control of Light Echos’ – which immediately lifts us off the sofa into an antigravity dream where space-time operates in an unfamiliar and unsettling manner. This sensation forcibly synchronises our sense of reality with that of Moor Mother, poet/activist/musician/(fortune teller?)/(sorcerer?) and co-founder of Black Quantum Futurism, a collective invested in rethinking our understanding of and interaction with the past and the future…

As soon as we begin to settle into the opener, we are thrust unceremoniously into the next. This album is full of fast cuts between immediate tunes, most of which nestle under the two-and-a-half minute mark. It feels like more of a collection than an album, with threads picked up and dropped with equal vigour. Rather than being an ‘Encyclopedia’ as the title proclaims, it feels like an open notebook; making synaptic flips between ideas, ranging from oblique sketches (see especially ‘Obsidian’) to striking candour (‘Race Function Limited’, ‘Made a Circle’). Where the latter perhaps were more of a feature on Moor Mother’s vitally charged debut Fetish Bones, it is generally the more mysterious elements that impress on Black Encyclopedia Of The Air.

As a whole, the album is possessed by murk – not in a lazily muddy or ‘moody’ way, but with a dedication to explore the world that darkness speaks of. Synth bursts choked by cut-off fall slow and sinuous like blood in water and swirl alongside breathy vocals and distant cries of jazz elements. Moor Mother proclaims the importance of free jazz to her approach as a writer, an influence that makes itself felt across her instinctive writing and disorientating music. This influence makes itself felt in particular on more rhythmically unconventional tracks like ‘Rogue Waves’ and ‘Iso Fonk’, two of the album’s standouts.

It really comes together on its second side, finding cohesion within its chaos. ‘Tarot’ stands out as the longest and most patient track, justified in its length as it stretches into drones and percussive rings backing what seem like oblique prayers to a strange god. From here, the album coalesces, the final three tracks streamlining into a powerful close, centred around ‘Zami’, which drills into your head and spins it like a fairground ride. 

As a whole, Black Encyclopedia Of The Air feels like its own unique universe of strange sounds and intimations. We are left to chase Moor Mother’s philosophy down sonic abysses and lyrical mazes, and if we could only catch them we might just be rewarded.

Black Encyclopedia Of The Air, the new album from Moor Mother, is set for release on 27th September via ANTI-. Pre-order here.

Lloyd Bolton

Photo Credit: Bob Sweeney

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