Pharmakon – Bestial Burden
On her second album the 25 years old New York based singer and sound experimentalist Margaret Chardiet aka. Pharmakon uses the body’s sound spectrum to express the revolt of an organism against itself. Together with synthetic sounds, machine noise, tribal drums, threatening synth bass, zombie-like screams, and a load of frightening noise she created with “Bestial Burden” a claustrophobic landscape, to which a visit is not a pleasant trip.
Her music creates discomfort. It is an unpleasant experience; it seems unlike structured songs, but sound art pieces with recurring patterns that create the threatening atmosphere and the unease feel. The unease she illustrates in the music originated from the threat of a body that cannot be controlled by the mind and the body’s sabotage. Suddenly getting sick and having an organ removed, as Chardiet revealed in the press release for “Sacred Bones Records” , she felt “A widening divide between my physical and mental self. It was as though my body had betrayed me, acting as a separate entity from my consciousness.” This struggle and threat was transformed into lyrics and music of her second album “Bestial Burden”.
This existential sound is nothing new for Pharmakon. The New York born and raised Margaret Chardiet has been experimenting with sound as Pharmakon for 6 years now. She started out at the age of 17 in the NY underground collective Red Light District where she grew amongst other expentimental music artists to one of their leading figures.
Starting off breathy, transforming in a beat of fast breaths and a rising buzz, the album opener “Vacuum” intends to take your breath. “Intent of Instinct” is entering in a warning sound as if announcing an upcoming disaster, threatening tribal drums and the beautiful noisy melody of a distorted instrument that could imitate a tortured animal or as well result of a synthesizer or a guitar. This is brewing up in an elegant suspense until the singer is breaking out in disturbing screams, that are soon accompanied by an electric guitar strum, before the mantric drums slows down and fades into the next song “Body Betrays Itself”. The single’s distant calls blend into frightened yells, little by little drowned in the growing walls of noise around her, getting lost under their burden, the rearing waves circulating like propeller rotations, whose overlapping cacophonies completely cover everything in the end.
“Primitive Struggles” pairs the body sound of nervously increasing heart beats, a person coughing sickly, groaning, throwing up and spitting in a reverberent room. Accompanied by a dull pounding Pharmakon overlaps the coughing and vomiting noises in increasing intensity, just to fall silent at the end in a sudden.
“Autoimmune” is different, as the protagonist seems empowered and leads the song with her aggressive yells that melt to zombie-like noises, accompanied with a faster militant beat and sharply whipping lashes, creating a fight song that illustrates the fight against the autoimmune disorder of the body’s system of immune attacking its own cells and tissues. Menace and terror are also transmitted by the last track that enters with an ominous bass line and white noise-like sounds. The repetitive screams of “I’m looking for my shadow” and “I don’t belong here” are accompanied by insane laughter and are overlapping to a frightening chaos of noise, in the end only the threat of the bass line remains.
Bonus track Nancy Sinatra’s Cover “Bang Bang” adds to the big collection of already existing covers the real feel of death, of a deadly shot and the real horror that comes with it. Compared to others only illustrating the shot on the surface, Pharmakon adds the death threat to it. Ghostly and atmospheric, the shots are little explosions that rumble into the revelation of Pharmakon’s beautiful vocals, appearing for the first time on this bonus track of the album. Gradually more and more distorted and echoed, “Bang Bang” remains unusually calm.
As Pharmakon once explained, her drive to make noise music is something like an exorcism where she is able to express, her “deep-seated need/drive/urge/possession to reach other people and make them feel something [specifically] in uncomfortable/confrontational ways.” This is exactly the impression you get on “Bestial Burden”. The album is like an exorcism, trying to wipe out the “Bestial Burden” that your own body has become and that betrays itself. For the listener the album is a cathartic experience akin to the consumption of music by artists like Swans or The Birthday Party and their self-exorcism, much more demoniac than other female “dark” or “experimental” musicians like Chelsea Wolfe or Zola Jesus. “Bestial Burden” is unpleasant, maybe disgusting, but thrilling and soothing in the same time, like taking some pharmacon.