Anonymity in music these days is a rare thing. Artists can sell millions of records off their name or the name of a featured artist alone, regardless of the music’s inherent quality. Being an anonymous artist implies that the artist’s work must be substantial enough to speak for itself—without a face, label or company behind the song to tell us how to feel.
Anonymity has many functional benefits: it allows for a more authentic form of expression, helps the artist avoid scrutiny, and empowers the artist to exert a greater control over their own image, message, and art. Emotionally, anonymity can also lead to a greater connection with listeners, who are able to project or empathize with the music more than they would have otherwise, because judgments like race, gender, age, and sexuality are removed. In a sense, the shroud of anonymity contributes to universality.
Take Daft Punk as a timely example: a legendary duo that challenged the status quo to create universally appealing sounds, all behind two robotic LED helmets. Can you imagine if the names and faces behind Daft Punk were splattered across magazines or revealed in interviews as focal points of the music? Of course not—the mystery behind Daft Punk is like folklore.
This ambiguity of anonymity is what makes Blood Cultures so fascinating. The four-piece band, based in New Jersey, initially started by a single band member: a first-generation American of Pakistani descent, make experimental, anti-pop, indie electronic music that can best be described as awakening the senses. I first discovered Blood Cultures in 2019 when a friend sent me their song “Flowers For All Occasions,” off their 2019 LP Oh Uncertainty! A Universe Despairs. After a few listens where I found myself in utter awe, I’ve been hooked ever since.
There is little information available on Blood Cultures, with bits and pieces coming from sporadic interviews from other online music blogs over the past few years. I can’t even list the group members’ names because I don’t know who they are. Googling the group turns up images of four individuals, sharply dressed in colored suits and burkas that conceal the entirety of their faces. Sonically, they’re just as difficult to pinpoint—their music is wonderfully odd, dark, filled with distorted guitar chords, interesting drums, heavy bass guitar, and hypnotic synthesizers.
Notwithstanding the intrigue behind the group, the music speaks for itself: Blood Cultures’s third full length LP, LUNO, is out tomorrow, and it is a spectacle. Thematically, LUNO experiments with a visceral exploration of internal darkness and destruction. The project overall has a tumultuous undertone, jarring instrumentals that ebb and flow, and warbled lyrics that convey confusion and disdain. However uncomfortable this journey of self-examination may be, Blood Cultures drives forward, constructing sounds and lyrics that act as an acknowledgment of the darkness, rather than a condemnation of it. Ultimately, the record is about resurrection and a growing confidence in one’s position relative to everyone – or everything – else.
Because the album’s lyrics are intentionally unclear throughout, the project’s theme is primarily communicated through sound and production. Take, for example, LUNO’s opening track “Keeps Bringing Me Back.” Several seconds in, the song spikes with warped, ominous synths. It sounds almost predatory, as if something unpleasant or forgotten is approaching or lingering in the background. Or, rather than occurring without, it could just as easily be from within—a darker, unseen side rising to the surface. Regardless, a clash occurs, and the last minute or so of “Keeps Bringing Me Back” absolutely erupts, with crashing drums and belabored synths, until the song slowly fades.
What comes next is the soft opening of “Deep Sea Diver,” sounding dreamy and faraway. As the name denotes, “Deep Sea Diver” sounds as if it was recorded underwater, and the song’s hook sounds as if it was sung through long, winding pipes that further obscure the vocalist’s identity. The song’s actual lyrics are very difficult to interpret, which again fuels this notion that words are secondary to the intensity of the production.
Part of the veil behind Blood Cultures is lifted on “Set it On Fire,” a complex, poignant standout of a song on LUNO. “Set it On Fire” hobbles with a gentle melancholy that is juxtaposed against crashing drums as the singer allows some unseen weight to pour over him.
“Take all of my dreams, take off both your wings
And set them on fire, set them on fire
Take all of my things, all of my beliefs
And sent them on fire, you set them on fire
Well I let it all, I let it all happen”
Compared with the single version of “Set it On Fire,” the album version (and music video) has an extended introduction where the lyrics are laid bare over quietly increasing drums, adding to the song’s significance. Here, Blood Cultures sounds weary – drained from uncertainty, disinclined to set fire to their “dreams” and “wings,” but reluctantly doing so anyways. Someone – or again, something – has the singer’s neck in a noose, and rather than resist, Blood Cultures comes across as languished.
“Set it On Fire” is also one of several music videos Blood Cultures put out prior to the release of LUNO, which all together tell a cohesive, beautiful story. In the square-framed music video for “Set it On Fire,” two masked individuals – a father-figure and young son – live in an isolated cabin in the woods, donning masks over a backdrop of other individuals in framed pictures also wearing masks. Together, the pair weightlifts and fires guns in preparation for a robbery of some sort, although it’s clear the younger of the two is despondent throughout, doing whatever is expected of him by his father figure. A “troubled picture” unfolds in an unappealing home, and ultimately, the boy stands over an open grave containing his removed mask, before he walks away, shotgun in tow. Throughout the music video, a mysterious figure donning an all-white burka and outfit omnisciently looms. An interesting music video, culminating with a young boy casting aside the expectations imposed on him, revealing his true face – identity – in the end.
Curiously contrasting Blood Cultures’ appeal, there’s the contrast here that anonymity (or wearing a mask, as the boy does) is stifling one’s true sense of self, rather than acting as a form of release, as Blood Cultures seems to signify as a group. By the end of the music video, the boy assumes a sort of responsibility for himself, although he could have just as easily conceded to the force of uniformity or ignorance. The music video almost hints that the veil behind Blood Cultures may be beginning to lift.
Up next off LUNO is “Graveyard Vibes,” an apt name for a song that sounds downright spooky. Heavy bass undermines this track’s discord, and the song seems to jump out your headphones and into the room around you. It’s easy to picture Frankenstein’s monster being brought back to life, only to start shimmying and grooving next to the operating table.
Next up is “Andromeda,” an interesting song that toys with elements of jazz, followed by “When the Night Calls,” the last single released before LUNO’s release. “When the Night Calls” is a hypnotic song that builds up to the song’s infectious hook. According to Blood Cultures via New Noise Magazine, “the night has a deceptively alluring nature. It shows us what we shine a light on, what we want to focus on, but not the whole picture, not what’s hidden underneath the darkness.” Like many things, we don’t always see true intentions; we often only see what’s right in front of us.
Surprisingly, the next song on LUNO is a freestyle, a term that isn’t traditionally associated with experimental indie music. Is all of “Cabin Fever Freestyle” a freestyle – the result of dramatic improvisation with layered instrumentals? Are the lyrics the only things that’s freestyled? Not sure, but either way, “Cabin Fever Freestyle” is another stand out. Over a backdrop of quiet whistling and warped strumming, Blood Cultures’ voice sounds different here at certain points, higher in tone, and the bridge leading to the outro is distinctively dripping in melancholy.
A recurring topic across LUNO is the moon, culminating with the final track on the project – “Beneath the Moon & Me.” This song is an absolute trip, jolting and jerking from industrial screeches to a soothing melody. The instrumentation on this song is so layered, so jagged, it takes multiple listens to absorb what you’re hearing. Then – a gentle outro, with Blood Cultures crooning that we must “look where you don’t want to, it’s there that you will find, the answers you won’t hope for, but need, to change your mind.” Like “When the Night Calls,” lyrically, “Beneath the Moon & Me” nods to shadows shrouding what we cannot see. Only by venturing through the dark can we (hopefully) find the light.
And just like that, LUNO ends, leaving you confused and unsure what to feel. Blood Cultures’ music—and this project in particular—lack any sort of preestablished order or familiarity in music, and his (or their) music is supremely original. The fact that there is no one quite like Blood Cultures only adds to the mystery behind the mask. The project, as best as I can tell, is a sort of rebellion against the self, uniformity, and naivete. The act of true self-examination – deep and dark – reveals that which we never knew about ourselves, and frees us. Blood Cultures almost pleads for this, believing that understanding the self allows for a truer form of resurrection or enlightenment.
LUNO drops tomorrow.