- Maya Bouldry-Morrison has identified as queer since the age of 16, but she didn't come out as trans until a couple years ago. This process of self-realization is reflected, however subtly, in her music as Octo Octa. In a recent interview with Terre Thaemlitz, she described her last LP, Between Two Selves, as "a coded queer trans message, because I wasn't ready to come out at that point." (In addition to its loaded title, that album began with a track called "Who I Will Become.") Her new one, Where Are We Going?, is less coy. Released on HNYTRX, the label arm of Honey Soundsystem, the record contains, in Bouldry-Morrison's words, "an overtly queer message with the narrative built around it."
That message is most clear in the photograph on the cover and in titles like "Preparation Rituals" or "No More Pain (Promises To A Younger Self)." But it also exists in the actual music, which gives Where Are We Going? a compelling sense of depth and ambiguity. A certain chill runs through these tracks, even at their most party-friendly. Sometimes it's soothing—the opener, "Where Are We Going? Pt. 1," has the coolness of an untouched pillow. Sometimes it's more haunting—the tense chords of "On Your Lips," the ominous lead of "Adrift." This tension reflects the album's personal dimension. More than the needs of a DJ or a party, Where Are We Going? is shaped by the experiences that loomed over Bouldry-Morrison as she wrote it.
The LP drifts through various shades of house, forming the narrative Bouldry-Morrison mentioned. The beginning has a cozy party vibe, moving from the sleek deep house of "On Your Lips" to the raucous, UK-flavored breaks of "No More Pain" and "Move On (Let Go) (De-stress Mix)." Over time, a more somber mood takes hold, thanks to "Adrift," a silky, cavernous techno track, and "Where Are We Going? Pt. 2," a send-off where Bouldry-Morrison brings in the full orchestra—cascading pianos, vaporous pads, fluttering percussion and so on. The decision to end on a bittersweet note was more than stylistic. "This was also right before Trump," she told Thaemlitz. "So, you know... it feels like more poignant of an insight into what was about to happen—because what the fuck is happening right now?"
Political and personal subtext aside, Where Are We Going? is an inspired album purely on the basis of its production. Bouldry-Morrison has always had a knack for making sounds jell. Of Between Two Selves, Angus Finlayson, writing for Pitchfork, said that "sonic elements don't sit alongside one another so much as pump fluidly in and out of focus." Something similar happens here. The whole thing is soft and feathery even at its most hard-hitting, its more chaotic moments rushing by like a breeze through your hair. Disparate textures form dazzling contrasts: icy pianos against electric synths, frothy hi-hats over fluid chords. Simple sounds feel richly expressive, from the odd yaps and wails in the album's opening moments to the canned spinbacks that light up "Fleeting Moments Of Freedom (Wooo)."
There are times when Bouldry-Morrison could sound a bit less like one of her main influences: Thaemlitz, whose own style of deep house introspection is maybe too close of a parallel here. Still, Where Are We Going? reveals Bouldry-Morrison to be a mature and gifted producer, one capable not only of conjuring up vivid sounds, but of using those sounds to express intimate parts of her biography and inner experience, something very few house artists are capable of. In this sense, Where Are We Going? is about self-realization in more ways than one.
01. Where Are We Going? Pt. 1
02. On Your Lips
03. Fleeting Moments Of Freedom (Wooo)
04. Until The Moon Sets
05. No More Pain (Promises To A Younger Self)
06. Move On (Let Go) (De-stress Mix)
07. Preparation Rituals
09. Where Are We Going? Pt. 2