By Scott Creney
This album haunts me for reasons that may or may not have nothing or everything to do with the album itself.
On one hand Gem reminds me of so many things that I love — Ronnie Spector, Eno, Cyndi Lauper, T. Rex, Fennesz — sounds that warm me, that on occasion make me almost alive. But U.S. Girls only reminds me of how little I’m able to touch, how numb I am inside. I can’t dance to it. I can’t think to it. I can’t feel to it. All I can do is listen, over and over, again and again. One of us is unable to fully engage, for reasons unknown.
I feel like I am locked in a struggle with an alien presence, in a battle that neither of us are going to with. Both of us are no longer able to laugh, able to weep, able to feel — our fingernails digging into sand while we are dragged to an inescapable fate.
Is it Gem’s frozen nature that makes me feel encased in glass? Or is it my own detachment that keeps me from finding a way in?
I relate to the album’s insularity to the point where it frightens me, a thin sheet of icy cellphone always between itself and the world. The way it sings of emotions without expressing them directly, a pantomime of human interaction. It’s the sound of life mediated through technology, an avatar telling you it has fallen in love — with something.
You can’t blame her. Creating art so powerful, so original, so pop, that it belongs on the cover of Spin and also on the cover of the Wire, and certain that neither of those things is ever going to happen. Why should she reveal herself? To be laughed at in the comments below her article? To have her skin and flesh picked over for imperfections, to be told what she’s doing wrong? Better to put up a wall so nobody gets in. Nobody knows who U.S. Girls is when she’s at home, when she’s alone in the bath.
The name of her project is impossible to google. Smart lady. Live by the external validation, die when it disappears.
Gem is a retreat from the pain of everyday existence. There is no external life. There can’t be; it’s too painful. There’s a cover of ‘Down in the Boondocks’ that has no idea what it’s doing there among the other songs. It speaks to the arbitrariness of life, the pointlessness of plans. One man’s architecture is another one’s car crash. Gem is music as avalanche — furious, destructive, but ultimately frozen. It’s that dream where you try to shout for help and no sound will come out. The tide is pulling you under and you are powerless to resist.
Our fall from grace is always inevitable and strange. The distance from spinning the world on one’s finger like a toy to being crushed underneath its weight is always infinitesimally small. This album, just like me, will be unjustly ignored. It may be the point of connection between the two of us that I have been searching for. We will each live out the remainder of our lives trapped in a state of desperate resignation.
I can’t stop listening to this album, but not because I love it. It mystifies me to the point where I believe that by understanding Gem I might be able to understand myself. It is possible I’m projecting here, but it is possible I am not. It is possible we are all doomed and living out the last days of our existence, but then salvation may be just around the corner. Best to stay right where we are, secure in our terror, frozen in our hopelessness, our ears to the speakers listening for clues.