Tracing their origins to a chance meeting at DIY show in 2015, the Brooklyn-based post rock electronic band and experimental performance art Reliant Tom is centered around its core creative duo, Western Massachusetts-born, Brooklyn-based composer Monte Weber and Dallas, TX-born, Brooklyn-based choreographer and vocalist Claire Cuny. The duo’s collaboration is a seamless synthesis of their individual talents and interests – sound design, wearable technology, modern dance and hook-driven, yet genre-defying songwriting.
“Reliant Tom gives me the outlet to explore both pulse driven works while maintaining the other musical elements which I find fascinating — timbre, aleatoric processes, and interactive technologies,” Weber explains. Adds Cuny, “Our ultimate goal with Reliant Tom is to be a multi-media performance experience that straddles the line between pop and experimental music — and philosophizing about what that even means, and is that even possible as ‘experimental pop’?”
Thematically, the duo’s two previous releases, 2016’s self-released, self-titled EP and 2018’s critically applauded, full-length debut effort Bad Orange, touch upon the pitfalls of digital communication and the generally blasé nature of modern social interaction – through the guise of avant-pop and avant-punk influenced musical devices and arrangements featuring electric guitar, vocals, a hybrid electro-acoustic drum kit, synthesizers and Weber’s Kontrol Instrument, which he developed while studying at the Paris-based Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music as a way to make electronic music more tactile and immersive in its performance.
Slated for a Spring 2020 release through Chicago-based Diversion Records, Reliant Tom’s sophomore effort Rewind & Play is a decidedly bold and self-assured step forward: Cuny’s sultry and expressive vocals while being prominently placed front and center, effortlessly glide over lush yet spacious arrangements of shimmering acoustic guitars, atmospheric electronics and twinkling keys with the material possessing a cinematic air that recalls Dummy-era Portishead, Tales of Us-era Goldfrapp, Radiohead circa OK Computer and others. And while continuing to be tech heavy in their means of sonic production, their thematic exploration of communication and interaction in the digital age takes a back seat. This time taking a more human approach, the material may arguably be the most mature yet accessible, most emotionally honest and vulnerable of their growing catalog, as the album’s central theme is a documentation of Cuny’s descent into grief and depression after her father suddenly and unexpectedly passed away in front of her — on the release of day of Reliant Tom’s debut album.
“Nevermind the Garbage,” Rewind & Play‘s aching and brooding first single is centered around a cyclical arrangement of shimmering and wobbly guitars, twinkling piano and atmospheric synths that makes the song swoon from the dark and overwhelming weight of loss and grief — and the knowledge that while you will find some way to push forward, that deep down you’ll recognize that your life will never quite be the same. “The song is about trying to return to a semi-normal routine by learning to manage the grief and anxiety that overcame me after the sudden loss of my father,” the band’s Claire Cuny explains. “My state was complex and somewhat guilt ridden because all I could feel was sadness. Even though I was at a good point in my life, with a loving partner, and reminded daily how fortunate I was when seeing the more severe hardships of other people such as chronic health issues and homelessness… all I could feel was despair, not the love or gratitude – but when you’re in the depth of your darkness it’s hard to feel much else.”
As a recently published Harvard Business Review article has suggested, we’re collectively experiencing a universal sense of overwhelming grief and uncertainty. Let’s be honest here, things are pretty bleak: on a daily basis, we’re hearing about hundreds upon hundreds of people dying from a communicable disease that any one of us could catch — and could possibly be carrying unknowingly. In New York, my home borough of Queens has been hit the hardest with the most cases and most deaths. Most of those poor souls have been heading to Elmhurst Hospital, and it means that the victims of COVID-19 live and/or work in (all or parts of) the neighborhoods of Astoria, Sunnyside, Woodside, Woodhaven, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Corona, Rego Park and Forest Hills. We’re talking about neighbors, coworkers, associates, the grocer, your bodega guy, your FedEx guy and so on. And there’s this sense among us that things will never quite be the same once this is over. How will we move forward? I don’t know. But what I can say is that the song’s creators never would have thought that such an achingly personal song would have such a deeper, universal meaning.