I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Christina Schneider and Zach Phillips have recently been primed in dark magic. The music the OSR Tapes stalwarts produce as a duo is mystifying in the turns it takes, their wired melodies against the spinning cogs of many instruments working lightly in conjunction. Their 2014 debut Look Who Showed Up Out Here was an understated lo-fi collection of pick-me-ups—most of them fuzzy, on the sparser side but deeply inflected emotionally. “I’m a lot of things / sorry isn’t one of them,” Schneider sang to open the record, setting the tone for a career marked by a no-apologies policy. A year and a half later, the duo’s forthcoming LP Antifree sees that attitude blown out. It’s gutsier, louder by a long shot, but it has the heart that CE Schneider Topical have given us cause to expect.
In 17 tracks we’re shuttled through a maze of feeling, through layers of inner questioning and outwardly directed frustration. Between Schneider’s and Phillips’ interlocking instrumental performances and shared writing—half the tracks were written by Schneider alone, half collaborative, one solo write by Phillips—there’s a whole trove of working emotions here, some of them quite potent. Schneider’s voice is a little less shrouded than on the last record but still smooth and delicate, working in tandem with itself in circular and half-step-riddled motions, specializing in cleverness and quick jabs. On the title track she reaches peak abrasion, calling out reviewers who brashly slap on scores and make quick assumptions about the creative process. “It was good / like shit can be / warm and soft / 7.3,” she parrots in a blow to the review machine. “Something for no one to read / antifree ANTIFREE!” Her voice breaks into a shout over the jagged waves of sound, an assertion of pure power that can’t be stripped by a rating.
Then there are moments of utter tenderness cutting through, like on the Phillips/Schneider co-write “Trick Candles”, when Schneider admits over the pluck of some guitars to feeling hoodwinked, her melody gently wrenching. Later, in a moment of light grooving clarity featuring instrumentation from OSR companions The Lentils, Schneider bares her most desperate feelings: “If I tell you that I love you / would you remember yesterday? / Maybe I don’t want to / maybe I’m dead anyway.” The rocked-out tune slides into a comparatively slippery and subdued “Wrestle Anthem”, where Schneider and Phillips’ waxy harmonies are punctuated by the wriggle and squeal of a saxophone. Even when the content’s painful or profoundly frustrated, there’s some trace of delight in it; the duo have made a record that’s sharp and prismatic, bound to cast light onto places where it’s long been missing.
Antifree is out now on OSR Tapes, and you can hear it in full below.