On debut LP Follow the Cyborg, Margaret Sohn (AKA Miss Grit) explores the figure of the cyborg as a vision for liberation. As a non-binary Korean-American trying to parse the various aspects of their identity, Sohn looked to the world of sci-fi and the tangled, messy road to autonomy taken by cyborg characters in Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell or Spike Jonze’s Her. Sohn was also influenced by feminist posthumanism, namely Donna Haraway and her 1985 essay A Cyborg Manifesto.
Following the cyborg — defined by Haraway herself as “a hybrid of machine and organism” — Miss Grit makes use of both the digital and the analog, synths and guitars, percussive loops and live drums. Their music, like Sohn themself, frequently inhabits the space between, or beyond fixed binaries, and on Follow the Cyborg, they escalate that tension with enveloping electronica that scrapes against hook-laden alt-rock. “Perfect Blue” — named after Satoshi Kon’s 1997 animated psychological horror noir, one of many anime references here — starts off with synth swells that mellowly carry the track’s first two minutes before they’re pitted against fuzz-stacked guitars during the dense, chaotic outro.
The record momentarily regains its composure for “Your Eyes Are Mine,” whose elegant electro-rock confidently struts along with a syncopated drum beat before it erupts into guitar leads that wriggle around the infectious synth line. It’s a hybridization which Sohn is quick to comment on — “I speak my own language now,” they sing — after the fireworks are subsumed by the tense electronics. It isn’t all about melding human and machine, though; “Nothing’s Wrong” is a lumbering, comparatively straightforward slowcore beauty, beating stick-and-poke indie rockers like Slow Pulp at their own game.
The album’s title track, appropriately enough, forms the thematic and musical centerpiece with an exciting mishmash of styles — club music, swirling new wave, cerebral art rock — that invokes the likes of St. Vincent, Sleater-Kinney’s 2019 album The Center Won’t Hold, and even David Bowie in its sleek, sophisticated musical adventurousness. Sohn elevates the cyborg to a new archetype — to quote Haraway again, “a kind of disassembled and reassembled, postmodern collective and personal self” — and the obliteration of stylistic boundaries exemplifies this dis- and reassembled postmodernism while still finding the space for an exuberant chorus. The song finds Sohn concretizing their ideas regarding gender identity — “I’m a living girl / A real living girl…I’m a living boy / A real living boy” — as spaceship flange and digital pings cascade around them. Throughout, Follow the Cyborg is a texturally rich and thematically rewarding work that really only falters whenever the execution doesn’t live up to its lofty ambitions. “Lain (phone clone),” for instance, references the cult anime cyberpunk series Serial Experiments Lain while its lethargic pace and nondescript melody dooms it to mere adequacy, only saved from unbearabledullness by its lyrical inquisitions into techno-existentialism: “And what’s the point of being so profound / When all I’ll be is contained in the so vague membrane…Hold up your hands and let go of your phone clone.” Luckily, this lull remains the album’s only misstep.
Although Follow the Cyborg continuously oscillates between progressive digitalism and retro guitar rock (often within the same song), Sohn looks to their alt-rock roots — the guitar is their first and most familiar instrument — towards the end of the LP, offsetting the brief introductory robot-voiced sample and subdued ambience of “The End” with a sweeping, post-rock-flavored coda. Closer “Syncing” ends things dreamily with an ode to cyborg autonomy and leaving the (exclusively) human realm behind. “I’m starting to move on my own now / And I don’t want to forget how / And so I’ll go / And I won’t be back,” they sing, articulating both their own journey as well as providing a template for anyone who wishes to follow in its liberatory, mesmerizing footsteps.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 10.