Day Magee, the genderqueer multi-hyphenate artist who starred on the cover of GCN’s 2019 Pride issue has a body of work including performance and visual art, poetry and now… music. The video for their debut song Oakdene Avenue premiered on GCN just before Halloween; a distorted, horror-inspired piece in which Day channels Nosferatu and Kate Bush. Debut EP Cure has been released today and packs a huge, theatric, melancholic punch in its three tracks.
Day’s artistry has always been dark. They spent a significant part of their adolescence in an almost cultish, speaking-in-tongues form of Evangelical Christian faith wherein their coming-out was met with an exorcism being performed on them. Day has been exorcising their own demons through art for years. Previous works have explored shame, trauma, grief, loneliness, substance abuse, BDSM and their experience with chronic pain illness. Distinctly queer in outcome no matter what form of expression they turn their hand to, the lasting influence of internalised homophobia, gender dysphoria and self-destructive tendencies is omnipresent in Day’s oeuvre.
Across Cure, Day never strays far from this familiar darkness. The sweeping, synth-heavy soundscapes (courtesy of producer Darragh Purcell) provide the perfect, ethereal tonality for Day to bare a lovelorn, downbeat soulfulness. Amongst others, Day notes their primary musical influences as Suede, Enya and Lana Del Rey. Purcell’s production indeed recalls Jack Antonoff’s intricate, dreamy instrumentation on ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’. Vocally, Day is all theatre, swaying between a restrained, precise delivery and a smooth, weighty baritone. There’s a feel of Pet Shop Boys, a touch of the late Pete Burns, a splash of fellow Irish artist The Late David Turpin and an unmistakable reminiscence of Depeche Mode.
On opener ‘Adore’, a gloriously ominous intro with nightfall metaphor motif and threatening intonation builds to a gentle, sensuous chorus that captures a longing and desire bordering on unhealthy infatuation: “You’re not the only one that your lungs breathe for, I keep on wanting more, I adore you” laments Day, knowingly name-checking Luca Guadagnino’s massively popular film adaptation of Andre Aciman’s novel Call Me By Your Name, itself a meditation on an intense queer love and heartbreak.
Each song on Cure has been developed from lyrics written almost six years ago, about a passionate and ultimately doomed long-distance relationship Day found themself in while in the process of socially and quasi-medically transitioning from assigned-male-at-birth to female. It’s a complicated memory for Day, who has since chosen to personally reject gender and identifies as genderqueer/gender-fluid. It took the trapped boredom of lockdown to prompt Day (an incredibly voracious prolific maker) to revisit these lyrics, and in partnership with Purcell, turn old pain into something very new.
Though time has healed the particular wound left by the subject of the songs, the emotive strength conveyed within them has not waned. Second track – ‘Oakdene Avenue’ – named after the street in Bristol where Day’s ex resided – is a stirring expression of rage, confusion and regret with a powerful, haunting chorus bookmarked by a driving distorted guitar riff. The lyric “being in love is so cruel” rings universally true, and the manic staccato synth on the outro conjures a church-organ atmosphere that perfectly fits with the lavish, soaring harmonies.
The work in performance and visual arts that Day – by now a fixture on Ireland’s art scene – has accomplished so far has always been informed by a fixation on the shame and trauma inherent within what they term as “the queer sick body”. Relating this not only to their own struggles enduring a chronic pain disorder but also to the complex connotations around HIV and the perceived danger of being queer, third and final track ‘Unprotected’ is perhaps the most thematically adherent to the pre-music niche Day has carved for themselves. A mournful ode to an all-consuming, drinking, smoking, reckless love-no-longer, the reprise calls out desperately: “unprotected, I’m infected, won’t you cure me with your love?”. To say this is tongue-in-cheek would be lacking. No, this is tongue-out.
The stark, affecting sadness masterfully evoked in the beautiful, unflinchingly honest debut Cure is likely incurable. Take it as a promise that this EP is a worthy contender for the soundtrack of your next break-up or breakdown.
The shift towards a healthy dose of depression in recent mainstream pop music has perhaps been best exemplified by the break-out success of Billie Eilish, though the list of preceding musicians who may never have gotten much traction is lengthy. Day has entered into a long-standing tradition of singing about love bad and sad that has made contemporary (albeit slightly askew from much spotlight or daylight) stars of acts like Garbage, Lana Del Rey and Sky Ferreira. Day tells the story of their first ever live performance as a spectacle involving copious blood and a real sheep’s heart being launched into the audience. It’s unfortunate that life in a pandemic means we won’t be seeing Day perform their music live any time soon but when they can, be warned… There’s a chance Day Magee just might sell-out a venue. There will be blood.
Cure by Day Magee is out now on Spotify.
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