The hard truth is, no matter how many albums we review each year, there are always countless releases that end up overlooked. That’s why, this month, we’re bringing back our
No Album Left Behind
series, in which the Paste Music team has the chance to circle back to their favorite underrated records of 2021 and sing their praises.
Even the worst mental k-holes of anxiety, despair and fear eventually draw to a close, but spiraling can make one’s thoughts race so fast that steadiness feels light years away. Once the spiral does eventually end, a sense of calm emerges, though only gradually; it takes time for frayed nerves to stop sizzling. infina ad nausea, Brooklyn-based electronic musician Meagan Rodriguez’s second album as QRTR, is a musical representation of this journey. It’s not her first conceptual rodeo: On her 2020 debut full-length Drenched, she honored the ocean’s inviting wonders and terrifying expanse through vaporous, blissful dance sounds with a peripheral sense of dread. In the first act of infina ad nausea, she further tinkers with Drenched’s musical brightness before descending into complete darkness in the second act and reemerging somewhat lighter in the home stretch. It’s a structural monument to the horrors of spiraling and the joys of what comes before and after, and Rodriguez’s production yields some of the year’s best low-key dance tracks.
“All I wanna do is stay home, get stoned, no phone, alone with you,” guest vocalist artemis orion whisper-sings in a spectral haze over the gliding mid-tempo club bump of “With You.” This mood defines the album’s opening stretch: blissful, not yet aware of the brief descent into madness to come. It’s also the clearest vocal run on infina ad nausea: Rodriguez prefers to so extensively manipulate vocals that they resemble synth patches. The bass-heavy, yet somehow Balearic rattle of “Want Me 2” is a prime example, wherein constant repetitions of “I can do what you want me to” burrow into the flashing synths like worms into soil. It closes the LP’s sparkling initial section, whose glassy sounds remerge in the album’s final stretch. There, on “Rewind,” a silvery tremolo effect and vocals tweaked to sound like a baby’s coos coalesce into the sound of new clarity. infina ad nausea starts in mild euphoria and ends there, too; the spiral is a circle.
What comes between these sun-soaked bookends pushes infina ad nausea into the sphere of 2021’s best dance releases. The album’s midsection is infused with bleak vocal fragments, fraying synths and murky percussive heft that fuse into a dance floor take on bottoming out. “Running From It,” which starts this stretch, hints at this state of mind—why face the problem when you could just flee it?—with clawing, gyrating electronics that sound like paranoia in the club. The destructive bass of 4 a.m. techno banger “Fractals” evokes a heart beating so hard, it could break your ribs, and Rodriguez’s voice is so distorted on “Like That” that it might as well be crumbling in real time. She sounds like she can’t complete her thoughts before her anxiety blocks them from fully congealing. The music is engineered for pitch-black, bass-dominated dance parties where you lose both your mind and cool to the music and miraculously regain them in the process.
infina ad nausea’s nocturnal, bleak midsection is so strong—and so sonically different from its surroundings—that it threatens to make the rest of the LP less enticing. This problem is merely one of structure, as on close listens to each individual song, Rodriguez’s knack for crafting alternative-universe club classics in pastel blues and sludgy blacks is readily apparent. Or maybe the structure is the point: Rodriguez knows well that, when you’re in a spiral, sometimes the best way out is to find joy in the darkness.
Sometimes, Max Freedman sits and writes about music, and sometimes he just sits. Oh, and sometimes he critiques, too. Follow him on Twitter and find his writing at Pitchfork, The A.V. Club, MTV News, FLOOD, The Creative Independent and, of course, here at Paste.