In March 2023, @ turned heads with their debut album Mind Palace Music that utilized an array of acoustic instrumentation and densely layered harmonies, like the great outsider folk records of the 60s and 70s and placed it in a modern setting. If Mind Palace Music was @ playing on story mode, their new EP Are You There God? It’s Me, @ is the darker, stranger side quest.
Mind Palace Music was written in very specific circumstances. The band was formed while they were confined to their homes during quarantine — Victoria Rose in Philadelphia and Stone Filipczak in Baltimore — exchanging musical sketches over iMessage and email. Even though the world has opened back up and they’ve been able to play together live, this EP was again created remotely while in their respective cities. What did change, however, was the production.
Are You There God? It’s Me, @ is @’s foray into electronic music — consisting primarily of software instrumentation (with the occasional flute, guitar or bass part sprinkled in). The band’s experience producing in this style was minimal, but they found the new process to be a rewarding exercise allowing them to explore new textures and structures made possible by computer music. Where their previous acoustic recordings had a looser and more human feel, these new songs allowed them to experiment with autotune and quantized beats. Rose was able to resurrect her passion for classical choir by singing and recording a capella vocal arrangements to be incorporated into Filipczak’s instrumentals.
Across five songs, @ call upon a higher power, as the title suggests, in search of fulfillment. While they try to remain hopeful, daily suffering casts doubt on whether that high power even exists. On “Soul Hole,” overtop an autotuned vocal loop and hyper-pop-esque production, Rose repeats “I’m going to the soul hole and I’m never coming back,” hoping to leave behind the material world and the desires that comes with it. “Webcrawler,” named after the pioneering search engine, might be considered Are You There God?’s epic. @ sees their search for meaning in life akin to how search engines pull together data from all over the internet to find answers. The music itself is even reminiscent of dial-up internet connection, with droning keys and machine-like drum programming until overheating and erupting into chaos, in the form of heavy-metal shredding, only to cool down again back on a loading screen.
While the band confesses the departure from their usual sound may only be temporary, it’s an exciting listen full of twists and turns that surprised even themselves. “We’re both really dramatic in our musical sensibilities and don’t shy away from ridiculous choices,” Rose recalls, “which can really be exaggerated when working mostly with electronic sounds.” Full of soul searching and sonic experimentation, Are You There God? It’s Me, @ is an encapsulating spiritual saga for the digital age.