Dance music has long been used as a refuge – against breakups and soul-sucking jobs, against homophobia, racism and war. But Christopher Adams, the California musician and producer behind PENDANT, sought not so much an escape from reality as a chance to face the reality he had been avoiding. His second LP, Harp, he grapples with the grief and pain that trapped Adams for years after his father’s death in 2010, channeling invigorating hardcore, eccentric rap and weird rave alongside flashes of R&B and new wave. What makes all these sounds work together is Adams’ confident performances and complex sound worlds – icy yet inviting, ambitious yet grounded. “Follow me, this is the biting pop music sound,” he raps in a Beastie Boys-esque growl on “Thorn.”
For much of Adams’ childhood, his father struggled with alcoholism and eventually died when Adams was 18. Adams – barely a legal adult – signed the papers to remove life support, and although he released music with acts like DIY post-hardcore band Calculator and rowdy punk outfit Never Young, it took more than a decade for him to get the experience through his art came to terms. “My father’s death was messy and confusing and it’s always been very difficult to talk about,” he wrote in a statement accompanying the album. “I wanted to make this record about pain, how ugly it can be and how grateful I am that it has connected me to myself and the people around me.”
Adams began work on the album in early 2020, writing and producing on his own using only a laptop. After several years of playing guitar music, he was drawn to different sounds: the sounds booming from clubs and warehouses, which then became vacant at the start of the pandemic. Harp is characterized by thunderous dance beats, in-your-face rap and fragments of spoken word – a shocking departure from Adams’ earlier work. Combining his shoegaze, punk and hardcore background with jungle, house and hip-hop, the album flips through a mad scientist’s library of music styles, from UK garage breakbeats (“LED Head Rush”) to heavenly synths (“Altered Destinies”). to abrasive electronic textures (“Contract”). Fortunately, the off-the-wall ideas largely come true, and as a veteran shoegazer who has previously worked with producers like Jay Som’s Melina Duterte and Jack Shirley (Deafheaven), Adams is used to balancing layers in his music.
Against this harsh but beautiful background, Harp explores the interconnectedness of life, dreams, memories and death – and how pain and love color it all. Adams’ previous full-length as PENDANT, through a coil, was rather abstract, with brief moments of vulnerability in metaphysical imagery that were often difficult to parse, alongside Creation Records-esque melodies that felt half-baked at times. Of Harp, Adams demonstrates his ability to write a gooey hook or hold attention without one, be it the seductive dream pop of “Blue Mare” or the acid-soaked club song “Rights for an Angel.” The melodies take his relatively limited vocal range to near perfection, showing his talent for both soulfulness and rowdyness.