Mental Notes

Last heard from Maja Osojnik as one half of duo Rdeca Raketa on their 2013 release, and before that she surfaced as the singer with Broken Heart Collector on their moving self-titled album in 2011. Here she is again with an impressive double album set Let Them Grow (ROCK IS HELL RECORDS RIP66 / UNRECORDS unrec11). Maja was born in Slovenia, but is based in Vienna just now. Let Them Grow is pretty much her solo, studio-based project, where she plays and sings everything including a rich mix of acoustic and electronic instruments and noise-generators, plus is credited with tape manipulation, “abandoned pianos”, radios sets, and installation tubes; she also acknowledges four musicians who she has sampled, including bass players Manu Mayr and Matija Schellander, the latter from Rdeca Raketa. Across four sides and 16 tracks, we soon enter into another world, an introverted and internalised landscape of the mind, an asylum for the disaffected. Make no mistake, this statement is the product of a restless and unhappy brain, as Osojnik explores her personal and very real mid-life crisis where she is no longer able to make any sense of the world, relationships with people and things seem to be unachievable, and she despairs at the possibility of communication. “I am amazed at how often this world is slipping out of my reach”, she observes helplessly.

Dealing with these psychological terrors through your art is always a good idea – I recommend it personally. It is good therapy. On Let Them Grow, Maja Osojnik makes artistic capital out of her own alienation, through a number of varied approaches. There are strange, cocooning drones, which envelop the listener in a sort of anti-womb environment, all billowing shrouds and unseen shapes moving in the background. There are songs which are as Teutonic and threatening in their melodic range as anything Nico ever recorded on The Marble Index, strident marching songs for a battleground of the psyche. There are spoken-word recits, accompanied by eerie non-musical backdrops, on which Maja unburdens her soul in fragments of broken text. All of these methods are likely to be analogous to the state of her troubled soul.

One interesting detail in the making of this album is her digital library of “rejects”, described here as “broken sound scraps”, which may be failed experiments, glitches or sound samples that went wrong. I like the idea that she is retaining and curating these errors, and then reworking them into the fabric of her music, without making a fetish out of the process or calling attention to it. As an artist, don’t throw anything away – that was advice I was given by one tutor. You never know what you’ll find in discarded sketches, doodles, or half-finished ideas. Today’s rejects are tomorrow’s mashed potatoes, or something like that.

You may think from this description that Let Them Grow is a cold and distant document of alienating tones and distressing texts, of no value to the listener except as a depressing bout of melancholia. Far from it. There’s an intellectual honesty and clarity to Osojnik’s work, by which I mean she is determined not to wallow in a swamp of unmixed emotional spew. Rather, she distils these feelings into sound poetry, into workable musical forms; hearing these can have an empowering, cathartic effect on the listener. Together, it seems we can work a way through the pain and uncertainty, and not get stuck in it. Perhaps we need more works like this in the world, as a way of understanding and dealing with these very common human feelings; Maja could take the place of 100 social workers, with her Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy. From 1st February 2016.