Published May 22, 2019"Look up at my finger. That's it. Keep looking at my finger. I'm going to count to ten, as you're falling asleep. And when I'm finished, you'll be deeply, deeply asleep. One…"
Ripped from a scene in Communion, the 1989 film adaptation of writer Whitley Strieber's close encounter memoir of the same name, this is the cold opening that sets Toronto-based producer Cindy Li's third EP as Ciel in motion.
"Why me?" a voice belonging to Christopher Walken begs. "What have I done?"
A press release locates the impetus for Why Me? in the trauma Li dealt with after a spreadsheet she and others assembled to draw attention to female and non-binary artists working in the Toronto dance community circulated out of her control in 2017, provoking online harassment and eventually resulting in a temporary ban from Facebook.
"I think I have permanent PTSD from that time," Li said in a 2018 interview. "I was being harassed by men and women whose names weren't on the list. Women who weren't even DJing anymore were mad about it. It made me think about how media attention can make things more complicated and messy for the people involved."
The dreamy sequences that unfold across the EP are accordingly less drifty and laidback than previous efforts, as they tend toward intensity and reeling affect. A sample of the Walken dialogue echoes throughout the title track, as an alien throb sends it all veering across lanes, flutes and gentle hand drum patterns calling from the sidelines.
Building out from a relentless kick, "Hipwrecked" seems to assess the increased visibility from a different angle — racing cymbals, synth parts and bass accumulating in a dizzying twirl as if under the watchful duress of a hurried and increasingly frequent clap, with moments of cool calm fewer and further between.
These conflicting impulses are further explored on "Uri's Song," a track that "expresses Li's reflections on today's cyclical conditions for activism, dissension and ultimately, optimism" with a shimmering study of minimal patterns and texture. Together with "Go Fish," it's the product of a hardware-based studio session Li shared with occasional collaborator Colin Sims, the latter track evoking a concentrated programming session — perhaps a reflection of the glaring void the document filled and the labour that went into it, or maybe to the process of music making itself.
Why Ciel? How could you resist? This is topically honed dance music, lost in its own freedom and inspired by its own confines. (Spectral Sound)