Listen to the first two minutes of the song “think 2x” by singer-songwriter LAVAGXRL, and you’ll hear three distinct movements of an electronic-laced romance. The track opens with a quick lick on the drums and the lines “Really cool of you to ignore all my calls/ Knife to my throat and my back against the wall/ Got me fiending, got me dreaming/ Making friends with all the demons/ who watch me fall.”
The lyrics speed up and just as LAVAGXRL establishes a rhythm, all sounds cut out only 14 seconds after the song’s start. What follows is a slowed down recounting of falling in and out of love and the torment of heartache. It lasts for about a minute, and that’s the cue for another whiplash: this time in the form of an instrumental breakdown that’s equally as dynamic and charged with emotion as the words that precede it.
This song captures the free-wheeling essence of LAVAGXRL’s debut album “Faith in Chaos,” a phrase which also served as a guiding principle for Sophia Higgins, the musician and producer behind the LAVAGXRL persona, as they learned to trust themself in the songwriting process. “I did a lot of improvising,” Higgins said, reflecting on how their background in noise music and live performance shaped the album. “It’s kind of like sonic scrapbooking. I would be taking this beat that I hadn't finished, and then I'd be pairing it with some lyrics that didn't really have a home yet. And then on top of that, maybe like a melody from some voice memo I had recorded, and they kind of fit together in unexpected ways.”
The end result is an album that takes an uninhibited step into the dark and weird. “It's not your basic pop album,” said Higgins. “You might get a little scared.”
The album’s sharp, sudden turns and instrumental storytelling remind me of the 2009 album “LP” by Discovery, an experimental collaboration between Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and Ra Ra Riot’s Wesley Miles. It’s a simultaneously heartfelt and breakneck style that has older roots with jazz and has more recently gained popularity with artists such as Charli XCX and A. G. Cook.
While the LAVAGXRL moniker is new, Higgins has spent years among underground and DIY music communities in and around Boston. “Nothing really beats a basement show,” they said. “I did a bunch of noisy live sets, lots of hardware, like contact mics. Just integrating lots of field recordings and different kinds of instrumentation.”
Higgins’ experience with improvisation framed the way they approached this album, which they wrote and produced. “Faith in Chaos” incorporates a variety of synthesizers, found sounds and, for the first time in Higgins’ work: singing.
Higgins moved from Washington, D.C. to Massachusetts to study at Harvard University. “I thought I was going to do maybe neuroscience and then I ended up doing music.” They spent time at Harvard’s 95.3 WHRB’s Record Hospital, the midnight to 5 a.m. show. Much of the music on “Faith in Chaos” originates from Higgins’ studies in music.
The opening track, “incantation,” was the song that Higgins included in an application to participate in a workshop with esperanza spalding. When asked to share a lesson from their time with spalding, they replied: “Standing by what you have to say. If you spill your guts on the stage, you got to stand right next to them and be like, ‘Yep, that's mine. That's mine.’”
The album goes further into explicitly personal territory than previous works of Higgins, who has also performed instrumental music under the name Frigid. “Faith in Chaos” uses words to raise the issues of trauma and depression.
Higgins had to postpone the album’s release after complications with COVID-19 left them voiceless for a time, then unable to fully speak for weeks. “I got laryngitis,” they said. “The need for vocal rest definitely affected the way I conceptualized communicating, and it helped me become a better listener for sure.” The album was intended to come out in the summer of 2022, but with rest and medical care, their voice has returned to 100% and they’re as ready to talk — and sing — as ever. “You'd be surprised how fast I bounced back to like ‘blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’"
With this first album as LAVAGXRL, Higgins has found a new practice of self-reflection and acceptance. “‘Faith and Chaos’ works on another level because a lot of the songs are about my personal struggle with feeling at home in the world,” they said. “Music captures these wordless feelings that I was trying to find a way to express before. It’s helped me feel more at home in the world and in my body.”
LAVAGXRL's "Faith in Chaos" is out now. An album release party will be held at Somerville's Warehouse XI on Dec. 2.