Devi McCallion and Katie Dey’s Album Makes the End of the World Sound Fun
'Some New Form of Life' is a funny and fucked record about the end of everything and what comes after. Or something like that.
Devi McCallion loves God. That’s what her friend Katie Dey says. It’s a joke, I’m pretty sure, but it’s hard to tell entirely how I’m supposed to take it, based on the brief email exchange I’ve had with the two of them in the last couple of days as they ready the release of their collaborative album Some New Form of Life. They were explaining the background of one of the record’s standout tracks “No One’s in Control”—a sweet, swirling song that’s about the fear of living a life with no one at the wheel—which swiftly transitioned into McCallion articulating a sort of cosmic death wish.
“Maybe God is in control and he's gonna make America burn,” she muses. “All this political shit is just make pretend. You're just showing your asses. God is going to break his promise to humanity and wipe them out for being too disgusting.”
This is the point at which Dey jokes about McCallion’s devotion, as if to undercut just how heavy that sentiment is. Do I believe that she’s 100 percent serious about her affinity for a Christian God? No, not necessarily, not even when she repeatedly rubs the cross around her neck in the video for “No One’s in Control.” But the scorched earth sentiment, the idea that at any minute a force bigger than us could wipe us all out, and that we might deserve it—I buy that she’s deadly serious about that bit. That’s the fuel that drives Some New Form of Life. Across 12 tracks, McCallion and Dey unfurl all sorts of existential anxieties—spilling all the discomfort that comes from being alive in the internet age. It’s tense, overwhelming, and full of a sense of loss for something abstract, a last ballad for a doomed world. That’s something you won’t talk about in Sunday school.
On some level, these are familiar themes for both members of the duo. McCallion usually makes music at a head-spinning pace as Girls Rituals, half of the freaked out duo Black Dresses, and a whole host of other monikers. Dey works under her own name, working in these glitchy, pitch-fucked pop songs that many have praised for specifically articulating the digitalist overload of living in a world mediated by computers. Both play music with a sense of precarity, that all the songs might soon crumble to dust if they don’t set it all on fire first. They deal in all the intense emotions: rage, sadness, wonder, horror, humor—all spun together and inflated to a biblical scale.
They collaborate, as people do in 2018, across the internet from opposite sides of the world—McCallion in Canada and Dey in Australia. They met a while ago when McCallion tweeted about wanting to do a song together. “I obsessively read all music news and know exactly who everyone is,” McCallion says.“I tweeted about her and she saw it ‘cause she does bad things like name-search.” Dey messaged her saying that they should instead make a whole album, which soon ballooned into trading hundreds of beats and sorting through the best bits, doing what they could to fill in each other’s gaps.
“I think Katie's cool and better than mostly everyone,” McCallion says. “I basically poached her for my own evil purposes since she wrote one of the best albums of 2016, brainwashed her into making my music be good so I can brainwash more ppl and convince the world to destroy itself with my songs.”
Dey says she quickly realized that McCallion had a knack for taking any random snippet she sent her and turning into something brilliant. She works quick and intuitively, which Dey found inspiring.
“Devi can make some unformed throwaway beat of mine into an amazing song in like five minutes,” Dey says. “She knows exactly when to tell me to stop fucking with things before I overwork it to death. She pushes me to be more free and less self-conscious about myself. Basically she made me a better musician and person. I could go on but that's enough.”
You get a sense of some of this mutual love and the push to make each other better if you listen to Some New Form of Life. For all McCallion’s talk of destruction, there’s something almost optimistic about the sounds that run through these records, droning open chords and colorful melodies that paint the heavy shit in a more complicated light. There’s a song called “Die or Be Killed” with a chorus that goes “I always wanted to die” that’s built around this wonderfully chintzy synth slap-bass sound and some squealing electronic horns. It’s silly and surreal, almost a slapstick take on self-obliteration.
“McCallion and I both are drawn towards sounds that are traditionally sorta ‘uncool,’ like default MIDI sounds or the bass from Seinfeld,” Dey says. “There's not really any reason why a MIDI slap bass should be funny, but yeah. Maybe making a really evil-sounding song with it strips it of its associations or something.”
Consequently, they’ve made a record that’s both inherently fatalist, but really funny too, which feels fitting on some level. They’re two friends who push each other to be better, to make weird sounds and shape them into pop songs that articulate the end times. It’s a heavy project, but it’s one they don’t seem to want to treat too gravely.
Take, for instance, the choice to release their record at exactly 4 PM EST today, at the dawning of a new moon. For a different group of people, this would be an incredibly portentous decision, but well, I’ll let the two of them explain.
“I hate the full moon,” McCallion explains. “It makes me feel terrible, but I feel terrible right now anyways. The full moon is too strong and bright for me. A new moon is better ‘cause it’s just dark. And also, we're entering a new geological era. One without humans. We wanted to make a cool album just to rub it in everybody's face as we get systematically wiped out, women and children first. In a couple million years or something, something that's not a human might get a chance at being the dominant species. Maybe it'll be trilobites again. They had a good run.”
Dey continues, affirming that the choice was about destruction and renewal. “Rebirth and stuff,” she says. “Some new form of life… oh I just got the title just now.”
They spiral into further environmental fantasieas from there, the familiar pattern of a pair of friends with a similarly dark sense of humor. McCallion supposes that maybe it’ll be jellyfish that take our place, eating the refuse we’ve left behind, or a bug “that’s good at eating poison shit and plastic.” Dey points out that any successor will have to be resistant to radiation, but McCallion isn’t so sure.
“I think there's gonna be at least like a quarter of a million of a years where nothing is gonna be able to withstand the level of radiation,” she says. “That my lowest estimate on that.”
Dey’s response hints at the spirit of the whole project, finding the stillness and the humor in the end of life as we know it: “Sounds peaceful.”