Review | Cacti – Billy Nomates

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Cacti sheds light on an uneasy, unpredictable relationship with autonomy

Uncertainty and contradiction runs through every corridor of Cacti. Indeed, the making of the album was punctuated by Billy Nomates’ (aka Tor Maries) chopping, changing and, at times, wholesale ditching of new material. Speaking to The Guardian, she remarked that she “just gave up on it”, before explaining “Some days I’ll think I’ve done something good, the next day I’ll set fire to everything and deny it ever existed”.

Subsequently, as much as Cacti is a journey of contemplation, it could easily be seen as a commentary on Maries’ approach to composition. The contents of Cacti shed light on an uneasy, unpredictable relationship with autonomy and self-preservation. While ‘saboteur forcefield’ opens up on times of goodness needing to be put to an abrupt stop, Maries reassures on ‘blue bones (deathwish)’ that “death don’t turn me on like it used to”.

Whatever is to be made of the album’s insecurity, its maturity compared to predecessors is staggering. Where her eponymous debut dealt in abrasive divergence that embraced confrontation, Cacti takes an entirely different path. As showcased in 2021’s Emergency Telephone, Maries’ delivery is more melodious and prominent. Broadly speaking, her vocals have assumed an almost Nicks-ian nature which dance with the immediate atmosphere rather than eschewing its harmonious merits.

This is not to suggest a single-note method, however. ‘roundabout sadness’ and ‘fawner’ respectively offer fascinating detours into funereal, isolating existentialism and delicate, Angel Olsen-esque acoustics that are affecting both in their contrast and enduring impact.

Most important to Cacti’s being, though, is the regular swings from control to chaos and the continuous toying with expectation of what could come next. Perhaps this is best embodied by the album’s closer ‘blackout signal’, a harrowing account of a “dream of shutdowns” concluding in a “bittersweet, bitter end”. The latter stages of the track see Maries execute an uncompromisingly anxious roar that disappears in and out of instrumentation.

Such is the horror in these statements and their release you feel almost voyeuristic – covering your eyes but peeking through the gaps in your fingers, wanting to help but being too afraid to fully accept the situation in front of you. It is genuinely frightening.

But this is the skill of Cacti at work: an homage to the authority Maries really has over her, and the listener’s, being. The aforementioned ‘blue bones’ warned that “I want to keep you company / That will scare the life right outta you”; it’s a challenge, a call to bring the best you can offer to try to understand, work with, and embrace the turbulence that Maries finds herself in. To accept this and all Cacti holds is to accept a union with terrifying, anarchic beauty. The question is whether you can keep up with it.

By Jamie Bains – @jamie_bains

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