Recorded in a room full of collected junk on a hillside in the Isle Of Wight and the modern facilities of the University of Brighton, ‘Gilded Cage’, is the second album from Curxes. Co-produced by Curxes with Mike James (Horseflies) and P.J.E Davy (Deluxe Flamingos), the album marks a new chapter for lead singer and songwriter Roberta Fidora. It is an album that is very much the product of its environments and her experience of moving location and reimagining her music with new collaborators.
Sculpted from precise rhythm programs and dance influenced drum beats, the album is embellished with a host of sounds that echo the past; acid house handclaps, ambient washes and techno dynamics, augmented and updated by new approaches and unexpected and thrilling context. Necessity played a large part in its construction; whilst not knowingly conceived as a DIY production, the move to that hill in the Isle Of Wight restricted studio time in Brighton and created a need for inventiveness over convention. The result of this approach to recording is an album that sounds studio pristine but retains a warmth and humanity far beyond any thoughts of ‘machine music’.
Within the house on the hillside, surrounded by the kind of stuff that have become exemplars of some lost imagined golden age, Curxes began recording in 2016 with the concepts of nostalgia and identity both present within the room and within the country. The idea transcended national boundaries as it took shape, recalling wider issues of being a modern person in a world scared by modernity, a woman in a world still full of glass ceilings, pay gaps and everyday sexism and, seemingly, increasingly keen to look backwards rather than forwards. The result utilises modern technology and advances in home recording to be, by turns, tender and terrifying, shocking and soothing, provocative and populist.
At times ‘Gilded Cage’ recalls the visual worlds of dystopias, the clinical electronics of the music laying a dark sheen below those direct to disc vocals. The propulsion of ‘Silent Running’ becomes the imagined soundtrack to a life or death chase through a barren post nuclear wasteland, ‘Misery Mass’ is shot through with static bursts akin to solar radiation penetrating the atmosphere. If that sounds like too much darkness, skip to ‘In Your Neighbourhood’, a bubbling pop moment of striking simplicity whose chorus sweeps majestically into your brain and refuses to leave.
As befits a musician who has another life as an illustrator, ‘Gilded Cage’ represents more than just an album of music. The initial video for the album release introduces the ‘Confidence Man’, a silent, threatening figure of unknown menace whose narrative will be developed throughout the films for selected album tracks. The idea of this menacing but unknown presence owes a debt to the likes of Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ and the Coen Brothers ‘Fargo’ in blending the surreal with the everyday which Curxes is happy to highlight but puts those American concepts through a UK filter that echoes the likes of the domestic ‘Tales Of The Unexpected’.
To some, Curxes will already be a known entity. Their debut album, ‘Verxes’ saw positive responses from the likes of 6 Music, The Line Of Best Fit, The 405 and a remix commission from Chrvches alongside a clutch of single releases and live dates. For the rest of us ‘Gilded Cage’ offers an introduction to a world by turns both shot through with light and darkness, a place not quite in reality but close by, teeming with potential and pitfalls in equal measure.