TBA: Annulé

That Annulé, the sophomore effort from TBA (Natalie Beridze, a female artist based in Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and member of Georgian art laboratory Goslab), looks and sounds different from her self-titled debut can be gleaned from the mere presentation of the two releases. Whereas the latter featured twenty-one sparkling electronic vignettes in a package of pretty abstract geometrics, the new release offers twenty-two in a broader range of styles and introduces a strong political dimension with photos of a burka-clad woman (presumably Beridze) and an album title that translates as 'cancel.' That such weighty themes should emerge in her work shouldn't surprise, given her academic background in political and media sciences and her experiences as a witness to the socio-political transformations occurring in Georgia.

In many cases, the instrumentals don't deviate radically in style from the minimal techno vignettes of the first album; tracks like “Dread” and “Soshi,” for example, feature similar clusters of bright, child-like piano and glistening keyboard patterns. Others, like the electro-funk workout “Tuesd,” expand the instrumental palette. “Getgoin,” in fact, sounds like some spy caper soundtrack, with chugging house rhythms boosted by piano, horns, and melodica accents, while the percussive, rapid-fire pianisms of the opener “Beba Plays” show just how much this release does depart on occasion from her last.

As appealing as they are, though, the instrumentals sound slighter for lacking the lyrical gravity of the vocal pieces. A general template for the vocal tracks establishes itself over the course of the recording: TBA's hushed, often monotone voice (sometimes, like on the title track, reminiscent of AGF's sprechgesang delivery) delivered over a base of sparkling electronic keyboards and minimal techno beats, with portentous lyrics about rebellion and political upheaval contrasting with the bright underpinning. Presented in a quietly sombre setting, one of the strongest pieces is “I” (“I speak within citations / I battle for the failed”), a tribute to the individual's stoical capacity to determinedly persist and endure. Setting her monotone vocal against a dark, industrial base, “Cheg” is empowering too, with lyrics offering encouragement to those struggling for a better future, with a bright keyboard coda providing an analogical sign of overcoming. Quoting lines from Dylan Thomas's Do not go gentle into that good night in “Sleepwalkers,” TBA and Gogi Ge.Org softly intone lyrics that encapsulate the album's themes. Lighter in tone, Beridze includes electronic dub and a gravelly voice-over in “Beslan” (“dedicated to the bottom of the ocean deep,” appropriately enough).

As a result of its broadened stylistic range, Annulé lacks the unified feel of the debut; it's more sprawling and less cohesive (though admittedly more interesting for being so). It also feels too long, on account of the sheer number of pieces and 72-minute running time. Consequently, interest starts to wane by the last third and the album wouldn't suffer from some judicious pruning (like the interlude of child and adult voices piece “TBC Geo Doc.”). Interestingly, Goslab refers to the tiny studio space where the album was recorded but also means 'state laboratory' in Russian and 'children's lab' in French. Needless to say, both meanings apply to Annulé with its bright electronic melodies and darker, post-Soviet era themes.

April 2005