Songs for Cadets

To align Milwaukee’s Dania Luck with Nika Danilova (of Zola Jesus fame) would be unfair. What Luck does with her alter-ego, Stacian, is a whole different monster, but the parallels are there and hard to ignore. Both women began their journeys as proto-musical beings, using naivety and amateur hardware as vital elements in their recordings. Both deal in terse, minimal, weirdo punk with gothic tendencies and an eye towards the dancefloor. But that’s about where the comparisons can stop. Stacian’s Songs for Cadets is an extremely frightening ride and quite a statement for a debut. Where Zola Jesus focused on terrestrial noise and inward tantrums in her earliest incarnations, Luck is more distant, looking to the black-lit cosmos and hardscrabble sci-fi for her inspiration. Her imagination runs rampant on the album, even pushing the concept that the record is a “coded training manual for intergalactic mercenaries, sent back in time from the year 2112.” To wit, Luck proffers that this music will likely be heard in a world “populated by reptilian humanoids and robotic pterodactyls.” Artists can spend days weaving a storyline to give further depth to what they put on tape, but very few of those yarns match the music as well as Stacian’s does here.

Stacian’s primary tools include battered, blown-out drum machines and primitive synths seemingly rewired for a future where power relies on a faintly burning sun. Even within the course of the album there’s a formidable evolution in the way Luck interacts with her machines. On the opener, “Eye,” it appears they are controlling her as she pieces together coded melody. But by the end of side one and “Untitled,” Luck appears to be in complete control, forcing presets to kneel to her oddly endearing warps and modulations. The song bubbles over to the neon glow and chromatic disco of “Orbit,” wherein Stacian recalls a grimier, more despondent Grimes. Given the narrow parameters of her set-up, the tones are quite varied throughout this short, increasingly addictive trip, though the sense of doom and dread remains at the album’s center. From brief glimpses of Songs’ subject matter (as on “Formida” and “Absenta”), one might mistake Stacian for a cold-wave copy, but that’s simply not the case. Delving deeper into the album, one can sense that Luck’s well of influence goes far beyond recycled French syntheses. “I Froze” imagines the arpeggiated psych of Sensation’s Fix flogged by static and rouge radio transmissions. “Lost My Sensor” even recalls the most primitive of hip-hop, back when Africa Bambaataa and Scholly D were using worn 808s to give a vision of our urban futures. Stacian’s adeptness at making markedly dark-core melodies work in the mold of bleak, post-punk keeps her in a small, but elite, group of peers that also includes US Girls, Circuit de Yeux, and the aforementioned Zola Jesus. She’s already found her own voice, which is very promising, and Songs for Cadets seems like only the beginning. Given the faint echoes that inform the album and the strikingly singular voice she presents with her debut, how Stacian travels the road ahead is something everyone should be watching.
Kevin J. Elliott