Five Star Hotel’s Body Absolution releases through Visual Disturbances on Tuesday the 15th. I was lucky enough to not only receive a copy 2 weeks in advance from the lovely Emily Glass, who did graphic design for this record, but to have a series of conversations with MJ, the creative mind behind Five Star Hotel, about Body Absolution. We also collaborated on a mix elaborating on what we discussed, the third in a trilogy leading up to the album which also includes WINTER DESOLATION MIX from January, and �BODY�HORROR�MIX� from November. This video was released on the 4th.
I couldn’t possibly gush enough about this record (and I insist there is no other word), or tell you how eagerly I’ve anticipated it. I’ll try to limit my self, but you are in for a long, self indulgent, overworked, very personal review of a long, much deliberated, labored over and personal album by someone I’d like to consider a close friend.So, there are themes we touched on in conversation that are very personal, possibly triggering (dysphoria is a big one). But MJ advised me “not to shy away from these themes”, as they are “the essence of the record itself.”
Body Absolution opens with an immediate blast. “Dissociation” is a recontextualisation of “QNR” from the E.Y.E Divine Cybermancy OST, “overlaid with original instrumentation” and interrupted by muted static. An initial listen recalled the propulsion and building tension of Oneohtrix Point Never’s “SDFK”. However, while this was MJ’s “take on a more rocky, less hazy eccojam” not unlike the Oneohtrix track in question, they insist that a “more direct musical counterpart might be ‘Contagious’”, from Actress’s excellent 2014 Ghettoville LP.
MJ relates how this “broadcast interrupted” was inspired by “something particularly horrifying about living in Florida”: MJ, a Detroit native currently located there, spent their childhood in southern Florida, and television was regularly punctuated with storm warnings. In their words, “something about the fragility of the media you’re experiencing, knowing it can be interrupted at any time, is oddly uncanny.”
For the album Body Absolution is, there isn’t a more perfect opening. Within the narrative of a transfeminine body absolved by transhuman technology, “Dissociation” is an initial self realisation. While beaten down and bruised violet with repetitious abuse, there is a sort of looking forward, even “optimism”. There is an implicit promise of the titular body absolution, “cybernetic” sound effects calling to mind the opportunities that medical technologies might offer to the transfeminine body.
The signal fades to radio silence. For 30 seconds, you can hear a fierce winter wind blow outside. The album’s abstracted purple cover takes as its source a picture of a frosted car window. Living in rural northern Minnesota, this imagery is inescapably common.
I think of having my car break down, on my way to Minneapolis for an endo visit in the middle of February. In my mind, I am now stuck on the shoulder of the road during a violent blizzard. It’s the middle of the night, and I am close to neither home nor my destination, in a deadzone for cell reception.. I can no longer afford to entertain this scenario. My eyes are on the road, and my hand reaches to tune the radio.
The dial slides right, and sharp arpeggiations subsume the gentle static. I’d prefer the quiet drone or even the silence, but I must accept anything that helps me focus, anything that keeps me awake. A strained vocoder is perhaps the first instance of “original” vocals on a Five Star Hotel record. MJ writes to me that while they wrote the vocal track in “this free vocaloid knockoff thing my friend Tyler sent me (called ALTER-EGO) with the intention of rerecording vocals on it”, it “didn’t quite work out”. However, they did manage to record some “re-purposed yells”, which you can hear on the final version, “still layered in”.
As they depreciate a voice I know already is a powerful one, their own, I can’t help but be reminded of my relation to my own voice, as a trans woman and a musician. I used to love choir, I was the section leader for the tenors. I sang solos at school concert, all that happy shit. I recorded my own vocal music until around 2012.
2012 is when I started articulating a transfeminine identity for my self, maybe a self concept. I dropped out of choir in late 2014, personality conflicts, I guess, and I haven’t really sang since. I’ll sing for Emily sometimes, but voice is one of the most dysphoric things I deal with, almost as much as facial hair growth.
The thing of it is: I can’t listen to this record or go over MJ and I’s conversations without somehow being reminded of “the essence”, the dysphoria MJ didn’t want me to avoid. Yes, there’s the influence from Prurient’s Cocaine Death and Frozen Niagara Falls, in spite of MJ’s awareness of how awful Dominick Fernow and his image can be, how Five Star Hotel as a project is really, in a lot of ways, the opposite of Fernow’s Prurient. We talked about how even though MJ considers their primary place/time influence to be internet communities, they still have an admiration for the work of Jeff Mills, and how perhaps a time and place influence from Florida or the Midwest does show itself in subtle ways. I didn’t even have time to tell them how much this record reminded me of Laurel Halo’s Quarantine, another one of my favorites by a Detroit native, tackling similar themes and similarly difficult to write about.
The influence from “cyberpunk” and “body horror” as film genres, generally speaking, is something we probably spent the most time talking about. And I really hope that’s translates when people listen to the mix, if they do, although I regret we weren’t able to incorporate elements from Alien 9, Half Life, Neotokyo, or E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy. There’s the physical nature of computers and their failings which we think is often overlooked, and which also serves as a good analogy for the dysfunctions and inconveniences of the body.
But I’m reaching 1000 words without any links, imagery or academic quotes to at all help you digest what I’m trying to say. I just hope that whoever reviews this thing for Tiny Mixtapes is transfeminine/a trans woman…
I’ll leave you with a video MJ sent me, one you’ll hopefully recognise. Reflect on it, in earnest. Compare it to the first, and leave whatever you like in the comments.