The debut full-length from ambient-electronic composer Rachika Nayar, Our Hands Against the Dusk, is a kaleidoscopic and inventive release—but it’s far from cerebral. In mid-2019, the Brooklyn-based artist chose the cover image (a still of her hands entwined with a friends’) from an old collaborative project. Along with the title (lifted from a Richard Jackson poem), the image of “touch” alludes to the deeply (inter)personal experiences that animated the album over the four years it was written: not just caress, but encounters and collisions.
Her compositional process similarly begins with a moment of touch: her fingers on the fretboard. Songs are built from guitar loops that are then digitally processed into endless new shapes as they are combined and threaded through multiple genres and emotions. Track five, “New Strands,” suggests this process in miniature, as a stuttering, close-mic’d guitar plays out into soaring shimmers of reverb and granular processing.
Such moments are hard to imagine separately from the blue fluorescence of Nayar’s vivid visual sensibility, which has been seen in her self-directed music videos, scores for films such as 2019 feature So Pretty, and A/V performances like the installation-version of the album to be presented later this year at The Shed.
Growing up in a small town removed from physical musical communities, Nayar originally took to the online world for her creative explorations, delving into modern composers, Midwestern emo, uplifting trance and beyond. The diverse influences are visible on longer tracks such as “Losing Too Is Still Ours,” which extends from rippling guitar figures and keening vocals to methodic, marching strings.
On the song title, taken from a Rainer Maria Rilke poem, Nayar describes, “I used to hear these lines over and over in my head years ago when I was learning to let go of people and pasts with grace, even after very painful or violent events. It talks about loss as something that is still shared, through this image of absence itself drawing a ‘magnificent curve’ around everyone and everything involved.”
The ghostly voiced haze of “Aurobindo” takes its title from a similarly intimate place, referencing an Indian yogi whose philosophies speak to elevating earthly reality to the divine. “Someone in my family had a moment of ‘darshan’ (essentially ‘a vision of the divine’ in Hinduism) at Sri Aurobindo’s Pondicherry Ashram many years ago. The images in my A/V visuals often stem heavily from my dreams, which in my head hold a relationship to this lineage of familial mysticism.”
For Nayar, the album’s fluid but always deeply felt form is thus a way of translating that which could never be summed up with static names, words, or feelings. It is her way of navigating the many communities, musical and human, through which she’s passed as a trans feminine Indian-American. Rejecting the easy reduction of her project to an “identity politics narrative,” though, she takes that understanding as one of many in a stream of perspectives that shapes her life, and her music suggests the same.
To that end, Our Hands Against the Dusk mines the flux and discontinuity of experience as fertile ground. Nayar’s debut invites us to join alongside it in thinking beyond metanarratives, as musical and emotional histories touch in its twilight space and refract into a multifaceted whole. In that endeavor, Our Hands Against the Dusk is an embrace and a hope.
The album will be released March 5 on cassette and digital, via NNA Tapes.