One night in the ’70s, Amanda Lear took the stage from the depths of the void to sing her siren song, seducing her audience to take the steps along with her into the unknown. “Follow Me” was an anthem for those who felt like they couldn’t bear to be in any sort of spotlight, but what was she actually beckoning to? Her vagueness and the unreal setting — she stands alone on a stage with flashing lights overlaid onto the footage — give the viewer no certainty about who she is, where she came from or where she is taking them. But maybe, just maybe it’s better than here.
Many old live performance videos have this feeling that they exist out of reality, that the singers actually never leave once the song is over. The lights dim, and the stage is empty once again. Smerz’s new album Believer has the same aura of otherworldliness as the Lear performance.
The music just feels so lonely. The use of empty space contrasted with harsh electronics and acoustic elements aid in this fantastical vision of a world all on its own. The lyrics concern everything that is real outside of the venue, but at the same time there’s no escaping the stage.
Consider “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury, a story about a fully mechanized home that continues to perform the motions of housework after the family, and all human life for that matter, has ceased to exist. The toast is still cooked, the floors are still vacuumed. All of the rituals that used to have purpose continue, as long as the house has the electricity needed to do its duties. Similarly, Believer still holds the imprints of past performances, like the small operatic voice passing through at the end of “Versace Strings” or the quiet patter of various instruments in “4 temaer.”
Smerz presents a dialogue between the instrumentals and songs. When the singers sing, it feels like an exclamation to no one. With an aesthetic that borrows from classical styles as well, like on “The Favorite,” which actually simulates something like an aria from opera, Smerz utilizes hauntology to fully imbue the album with something off-kilter, something confusing, with no certain origin. “Rap Interlude” directly after this song juxtaposes this even further, with soft humming vocals pinning an uncertain voice mumbling through flows, in an amateurish show of soft bravado.
The platforms we use for performances somehow take on lives of their own. With the stage, we welcome ourselves as guests: We primp and set it, and on the best days, we witness performances that awe us as if we’ve just witnessed a wonder of the world. The mystifying human spirit is what imbues the stage with such life, but when the people leave, and the lights are out, what does it do alone?
There are the thick ropes that can move huge curtains, gears and lights that all lay in wait for the next performance which will bring endless rhythms of movement into them. Creaking floorboards recall the movement of actresses’ feet that propels the drama further. The drifting curtains hide any detraction from the illusion of a constructed world. All these objects hold the memories of the souls who pretended to be other people, of the unreal narratives that could only exist in our simulations of life, that take the senses and recontextualize them in order to make those watching believe that what’s happening on-stage is actually real. But reality can only come from the life within us.
Daily Arts Writer Vivian Istomin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.