Melbourne-based duo Divide and Dissolve — Takiaya Reed (sax, guitar) and Sylvie Nehill (drums) — have long been focused on Indigenous sovereignty: Reed is Tsalagi (Cherokee) and Black, Nehill is Māori. As a duo, they released two albums 2017’s Basic and 2018’s Abomination through DERO Arcade before signing with Invada, who released their widely acclaimed third album, 2021’s Gas Lit. Gas Lit Remix EP was also released in 2021 and featured reworkings and remixes of Gas Lit material by Moor Mother, Chelsea Wolfe and Bearcat.
Last year, the duo toured across North America and Europe, opening for Low, which included a stop at Webster Hall, as well as headline dates and festival appearances.
The acclaimed Aussie outfit’s fourth album, the Ruban Neilson-produced Systemic is slated for a June 30, 2023 release through Invada. Thematically, the album sees the duo exploring the systems that intrinsically bind us — and calls for a system that facilitates life for everyone. It’s a message that fits firmly with the band’s core intentions: to make music that honors their ancestors and Indigenous lands, to oppose white supremacy, and to work towards a future of Black and Indigenous liberation. “This music is an acknowledgement of the dispossession that occurs due to colonial violence,” Divide and Dissolve’s Takaiya Reed explains in press notes. “The goal of the colonial project is to separate Indigenous people from their culture, their life force, their community and their traditions. The album is in direct opposition to this.”
Recorded as a duo, the album according to Reed is a continuation of Gas Lit. “Because of what was built with Gas Lit, Systemic is able to express itself.” She adds, “The album is a prayer to our ancestors. A prayer for land to be given back to Indigenous people, and for future generations to be free from this cycle of violence.”
Reed emphasizes that it’s crucial for their music to be instrumental. “I believe in the power of non-verbal communication,” she continues, “A huge percent of communication is non-verbal. We learn so much without using words.” There’s one exception on the album, the spoken word track “Kingdom of Fear,” which features writer and artist Minori Sanchiz-Fung, who contributed to previous Divide and Dissolve albums.
Last month, I wrote about “Blood Quantum,” a composition built around a dissonant and insistent thumping of crashing cymbals, thunderous snare, Melvins-like guitar sludge, wavering synths and horns paired with mournful yet gorgeously orchestrated passages meant to evoke brief moments of respite. The song is rooted in — and expresses awe-inspiring beauty and heart-wrenching anguish of human existence. “The heaviness is really important,” Reed says. “It’s congruent with the message of the music, and the heaviness feels emblematic of this world’s situation.”
“Indignation,” Systemic‘s latest single begins with a gorgeous introduction featuring looping and mournful saxophone and yearning strings that quickly morphs into the song’s second and longest section, a stormy and forceful dirge featuring power chord-driven guitar sludge, thunderous drumming and wailing strings, before ending with the mournful saxophone and yearning strings of its introduction. Divide and Dissolve’s Reed says that the song “is a prayer that land be given back to Indigenous people. A hope that future generations no longer experience the atrocities and fervent violence that colonisation continues to bring forth.”
The accompanying video continues the acclaimed Aussie outfit’s ongoing collaboration with director Sepi Mashiahof. “In reflecting on the powerful and vital messaging found in Divide and Dissolve’s music: decolonization, the destruction of white supremacy, and liberation from oppressive structures—this video is about the collective grief we experience about the lives we all could have were it not for the cruel and arbitrary systems of power that impede each and every one of our potentials,” Mashiahof explains. “The potential to truly love ourselves and each other is distorted by the agendas of vicious capitalist vultures who seek to emaciate our joys, bonds, and communities for their own gain. This video depicts an abstracted portrait of what suffering under these accelerating conditions feels like. Technology, dysphoria, dream-form sentience, transaction, and depersonalization constitute the thematic palette, laid upon the hope of shedding our current forms and transcending into boundless, beautiful ether.”