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.
The acclaimed Aussie outfit’s fourth album, the Ruban Neilson-produced Systemic was officially released today 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.
In the lead-up to the album’s release, I wrote about two released singles:
- “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,” a composition, which 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.”
Systemic‘s third and latest single “Want” is a noisy yet yearning composition built around shoegazer like layered textures that include doppler effected-like oscillating feedback and brooding undertones. “‘Want’ is a deep dive into longing within a decolonial framework,” Divide and Dissolve’s Takiaya Reed explains. “We can want many things, but how will it happen? What is necessary, what systems must be broken in order for people to live?”
Continuing their ongoing collaboration with director Sepi Mashiaof, the accompanying video for “Want” features a variety of imagery that spins endlessly to the song’s oscillating tones. “As ‘Want’ is the song that introduces us to ‘Systemic’, the concept for the video emulates this kind of infant yearning for worlds beyond our current heartbreaking reality. There are so many beautiful textures above our heads that are inaccessible (as there are so many desired modes of existence that are inaccessible), and the rotation emphasizes the limbo of what that desire feels like. Trying to reach something, but succumbing to the loop of failure. Still, that infant yearning is persistent, and that compliments the need for hope and cements the importance of idealism as essential tools in our greater struggles for liberation.”