REVIEW: BHuman Has Landed With Intergalactic Queer Concept LP BMovie

B movie sci-fi and horror flicks are special kinds of charmers. The Blob (1958), It Came from Outer Space (1953), Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and War of Planets (1966), among countless others, all possess a particular aesthetic: delightfully outlandish. Certainly in the 1950s and ‘60s, such bizarre fantasies and their bloated space creatures cloaked a very real, tangible paranoia that spread like wildfire. The world was in the throes of the Cold War, and the art of cinema was vital for the collective cathartic release.

Brooklyn alt-pop duo BHuman ─ comprised of Billie Lloyd and Harrison Scott ─ excavate a smorgasbord of cosmic energies and classic b movie imagery to plot a concept record that dissects identity, self-discovery and alienation as queer folk. The aptly-titled BMovie is structured “to be almost a fictional movie soundtrack that reveals itself through the song and tracklist,” says Scott. BMovie comes on the heels of a self-titled EP released earlier this year, signaling big things for the prolific duo. The LP is raw, honest and relevant – a treasure trove of electro-pop that is unafraid to be bold and drive the narrative forward. Billie Lloyd and Harrison Scott are the kind of innovative thinkers that could be total game changers for pop music.

The effervescence fizzes right from the start ─ “Strange Things (Overture)” pops the lid with a kooky soundbite: “I saw a flying saucer…” Though the songs focus on the innate human desire to love and be loved, quirky production choices inspired by cult films and television gives every song an eerie kitsch.

On “Melt,” BHuman’s synth-filtered forms dissipate into pitter-patters of percussion and other sticky distortions that feel so peculiar its easy yo get lost in their haze. The lyrics reflect that liquid, permeable feeling; “I know that you’re scared / I feel it, too / Maybe I’ll just melt right into you,” the duo vow on one of the album’s most immediate hooks. Their boldness in composition and vocal performance is always the appropriate amount of strange and never appears so left field as to ward off potential fans. In fact, it’s their aloofness that is most compelling.

“Other Way” (soon to have its own Carrie-inspired music video) emerges with a radio-ready earworm of a chorus that cribs The X-Files theme song. Distant samples come back like lost transmissions from outerspace (“You didn’t actually believe you were the only inhabited planet in the universe?”) as Lloyd coos, “I guess what they say is true that / Things find you when you’re looking the other way.” Here, the surreal subtext elevates the relatively common pop trope of finding love in an unexpected place.

Their blip-bent version of Cher’s “Believe” is also a marvel to witness. A marching band washes in sharp waves beneath their vocals, which almost seem detached and cold, as if cast in ice, yet they remain quite evocative. In the video, Scott assumes the role of Mulder to Lloyd’s Scully (again referencing The X-Files and giving an altogether different context to the word “Believe”), as well as an intergalactic odd couple.

“Distraction,” meanwhile, is slathered with hip-hop shimmer, and its less linear melody underscores the aching mood writhing across their bedroom carpet. “Fiction” draws from a similar musical wellspring, employing handclaps and clicks to heighten its intensity, and builds upon the emotional framework. “Baby boy has got this mad ambition / But it’s all lies and contradictions,” they weep. The web of lies into which they’ve fallen becomes nearly unconquerable, but in shedding the stark truth, they wiggle free and soar into a liberating glow. “Materializations (Intermission)” is a glittering reprieve and sets the more polished tone of the second half. “I May Never Know” bounces along neon-colored synths and teases that they’ve finally come to accept heartache (“If your love is gone, I can let it be”) and embrace who they were always meant to become.

Their story comes to a crescendo on the one-two punch of “Creator (Interlude)” – which makes reference to 1953’s Glen or Glenda, starring Ed Wood (also the director), a docudrama about crossing-dressing and transsexuality – and “Teachmehowtobeyourgirl,” perhaps the set’s most vulnerable moment. Lloyd sings candidly on the pressures she experiences as a trans woman in relationships, striking a timely core: “You don’t have to be ashamed / Your love for me is not so wrong / You just weren’t raised that way.” Juxtaposed with the Ed Wood snippets, it’s easy to see why Lloyd and Scott are so drawn to tales of alien invasion hysteria; modern society still has a long way to go to fully accept those in the LGBTQ community, but BHuman confront the world that still sees them as “freaks,” destroys any and all preconceptions, and move one step closer to finally feeling comfortable in their skin.

INTERVIEW: Ziemba Extends an Invite to Parallel World of Ardis with “Veritas in Terra”

all photos by Megan Mack

René Kladzyk has made it her artistic purpose to merge various media since the very beginning of her musical project Ziemba; her debut LP came with an incense made from flowers in and around her childhood home, and her live shows frequently feature the diffusion of scents she’s created to go along with the specific experience. Now, inspired by singing collectively with Colin Self’s XHOIR, feminist science fiction, Nabokov’s treatise on time, and the neofuturistic architecture of John Portman, Kladzyk has launched the first phase of Ardis, a high-concept three-part album that explores utopia from a human perspective.

Essentially, Ardis is a parallel version of Earth, with “necessary changes” having been made. Its creation was a direct response to Trump’s election, Kladzyk explains. “I felt really devastated by a lot of what I was seeing in America and I wanted to talk about it but in a way that didn’t just perpetuate me feeling devastated by it,” she says. “How can I talk about this in a way that’s not just dwelling on how upsetting it is, but instead thinking about possible alternatives and mobilizing in a way that’s fantastical and fun and uplifting? If you believe that cultural change is fueled by art and creative work, which I do, then people who are making work that envisions possible alternative futures can have a real material impact on the world we live in here.”

The first five songs from the LP, which comprise Part One, were released in February, along with a video for “Veritas in Terra” that brings Kladzyk’s concepts into the real world via John Portman’s architecture. His buildings have served as the inspiration for Delta City in Robocop, and appeared in sci-fi classics and recent blockbusters alike, from John Carpenter’s Escape From LA to the Divergent series. Kladzyk first encountered his work on a trip to New York City (which she now calls home) during her teens, when she ventured into the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. “Veritas in Terra” was shot in three Atlanta hotels; Portman’s architectural thumbprint is everywhere in his home city, characterized by the multi-storied arrangement of floors overlooking a towering atrium, often with a glass elevator that traverses it like a an electrical impulse running up a human spine. Indeed, this is the intended visual allusion, one which Kladzyk mirrors in relating humanity to the sprawling scale of a futuristic cityscape. “It’s an inter-scalar thing – it’s like, if you look at a building like a body, and a body like a song, you find the commonalities in the way we structure ideas to the way we structure our world on the macro level,” she explains.

The video was co-directed by Kladzyk, Megan Mack, and Allison Halter, and it wasn’t an easy shoot, considering they were forcibly removed from the Portman-designed Hyatt, Westin, and Marriott hotels. “We filmed in [the Hyatt] and almost immediately got in trouble… then I was like, okay, we have to be a little bit more careful. And then we got kicked out of another place,” she says with a laugh. “We were very cautious with the Marriott Marquis. We mostly filmed from like 4-6 in the morning. We got kicked out while shooting the last shot; I knew we would because it was right in front of the concierge desk.”

That shot became one of the opening scenes in “Veritas” – Kladzyk looks up through the atrium, wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit. Throughout the video she’s “simultaneously exploring but also a little hunted, but then also realizing that there are all these different versions of me.” She says that Portman’s buildings support an almost voyeuristic tendency that she wanted to highlight: “[The atrium] changes how you look at other humans – you can see people so far away and they look so tiny. They often aren’t aware that you’re looking at them, but you can’t help [it] because the nature of the space encourages you to look.” Overall, it was the fact that Portman’s buildings are like parallel universes unto themselves that attracted Kladzyk to his work, which has been both credited with revitalizing formerly desolate downtown areas as well as criticized for being too insular.

The two remaining segments of Ardis will appear in April and June, each with their own specific fragrance accompaniment. This March, Kladzyk begins a month-long residency at Red Hook artspace Pioneer Works, which will culminate in a musical version of Ardis on April 14. It will expand upon the excerpt she performed at MoMA Ps1 at the end of 2017, which featured herself and her sister Anna discovering, then destroying, a fragrant utopia before rebuilding it. “One of the narrative arcs [of the project] is me as a human, trying to open doorways to Ardis, failing and trying again, and in the process finding it in all these different places,” she says. The Pioneer Works performance, she adds, will feature “a number of other performers, there’ll be a large choir, and other musicians… I’m working with a really incredible set designer, and there’ll be wild costumes, but it will largely be the music interacting with visual signifiers of the world.”

Ziemba will also perform a handful of more straightfoward shows on the West Coast with Teeny Lieberson’s solo endeavor Lou Tides in the coming months, as well as some dates throughout the Mid- and Southwest. She’s performed some of the songs from Ardis in a live setting before – “Ugly Ambitious Women,” in particular, appeared on a 2015 EP, and Kladzyk says she has more material she’s interested in reimagining – and will do so again at Secret Project Robot next week. Ever prolific, she’s currently writing songs that are a little more grounded and personal, but whether she revisits Ardis in the future remains to be seen. “We’ll see what path it follows. Some of that may depend on how people respond to it, and the way that I learn from it after touring it,” she says. Though she hesitates to say that she makes therapeutic music, she does hope Ardis will offer others some catharsis, as it has for her to imagine such a place.

“[Someone asked] ‘What does Ardis look like? What’s it like there?'” recalls Kladzyk. “In short, I don’t exactly know. I’m still looking for it and I’m still learning from it. But that’s kind of the idea – maybe we need to reject this idea that we as humans can be certain, and instead focus on expansiveness, and listening and connection.”