Daine – ‘Shapeless’ review: a cutting-edge mixtape from a bold pop adventurer

Daine – ‘Shapeless’ review: a cutting-edge mixtape from a bold pop adventurer

Daine is an artist of extremes: pop hooks and metal screams; abstract lyrics about corporeal disabilities; a deal with Atlantic Records and an utterly unfiltered Twitter presence. The Filipino-Australian artist’s second mixtape, ‘Shapeless,’ contains their strongest juxtapositions to date – half frenetic and cutting-edge, half surprisingly straightforward melodic emo-pop. The results are consistently inspired, raising more questions than answers – in a good way.

Daine emerged into the world of post-internet SoundCloud pop in 2019, and was quickly signed to a major-label deal while they were still in high school. In less than four years, they’ve run the gamut of moods from sardonic to furious to deeply sincere. Last year’s “future emo” ‘Quantum Jumping’ mixtape, which tapped into the ennui of their high school days, did an enormous amount to peel back the layers and humanise the artist. Daine has since become much more open in the public eye – talking about their experiences with autism and chronic illness, and coming out as non-binary.

‘Shapeless’ opens in a radically different mode, as the title track’s frantic synths and kick drums bring the listener barrelling down a digital highway. Like the late SOPHIE’s iconic ‘Immaterial,’ ‘Shapeless’ embodies the terrifying highs of confronting one’s physical mortality: “Lips fake, eyes fake / Teeth fake, facelift / I got it all, now I’m shapeless / Devil by my side got vengeance!

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Similarly daring is ‘Portal,’ a drum’n’bass track about artistic reinvention – call it Daine’s supervillain arc. Where the songs on ‘Quantum Jumping’ were, fundamentally, wistful emo poetry, there’s no room for such musings here. Daine sings in short, often abstract phrasing – “I keep seeing numbers / Cycles ending, follow me into the portal” – as if they’re watching their surroundings becoming a blur, as they leave behind mundane reality.

‘Doom,’ a trap-pop cut about reaching the end of a relationship, bridges the gap between Daine’s spikier and more melodic aspects. In the verses, they proclaim their ambitions – to be the “young pop bitch / the new Madonna” – while punctuating the gorgeous melodies of each chorus with harrowing, black metal-worthy screams. The two elements never quite sit comfortably together, which makes them all the more thrilling.

Somehow, it’s almost as odd to hear Daine do straight-up pop music with no curveballs. ‘Smb2l,’ short for ‘Somebody to Love,’ was recorded at their mentor Charli XCX’s house, and her influence shows. Daine describes it as their “emotionally unavailable banger”; the choruses have an almost tropical-house feel. But unlike Charli, and the more mainstream approach to which the song aspires, Daine’s softer voice doesn’t rise above the track to command it. On ‘Smb2l’, it feels as if they’ve yet to access their full melodic range and power.

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The album’s closer, though, pulls no punches. ‘Writhe’ delivers on what Daine promised in their 2022 NME interview: “slutty, feminine, Terror Jr-esque pop music that sounds like Deftones”. Their melodic vocals, screams, and co-producer Lonelyspeck’s unmistakable bio-organic, synth-metal guitars intertwine into utter fury. Daine rages, “I watched you begging for something so unholy / And now you’re acting like you always loved being honest!

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‘Shapeless’ is an undeniable early-2023 highlight for cutting-edge pop music. But despite Daine’s distinctive songwriting, these 24 minutes feel less like a coherent, narrative body of work than eight new directions. Perhaps that’s why the aptly named ‘Shapeless’ has been billed a mixtape rather than a definitive debut album.

To evoke shapelessness and futurism, especially within the churn of the pop machine, is a blessing and a curse – it leaves the listener forever wondering what’s next. Through all the wild chaos that defines pop’s outer fringes, one thing’s for sure: Daine, at 20, is nowhere near reaching their final form.

Details

daine - Shapeless

  • Release date: February 24
  • Record label: Warner Music Australia

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