The Brooklyn-based producer and songwriter professionally known as Instupendo (real name Aidan Penn Peterson) has, for the better part of the last few years, made a pretty big name for himself creating ambient music that took liminal TikTok and Instagram by the throat. He's also a pretty prolific behind-the-scenes artist in his own right, having worked with Harry Teardrop, James Ivy, Toro y Moi, JVKE, and fucking Juice WRLD twice. The official Spotify liminal playlist, no matter how many times it updates, always consistently includes Six Forty Seven, Falling, Icarus, and Comfort Chain -- all Instupendo works from before 2018. And, to be fair, these are good pieces, despite the potential shallowness that can come with any music termed as "liminal". I think something that Peterson has mastered in terms of sound design and composition is making his works feel fragile, giving his works a sense of whimsy while creating this illusion of self, of a constructed work that is like a glass crystal. Certainly bright, shiny, appealing, but not because it's beautiful. Because it is fragile.

2019's Boys By Girls is a great collection of songs that bring this feeling of perfect fragility to the lyrical level -- pieces like track 3, Earring, dehumanizing Peterson to a level of accessory, or track 5, Talk giving him moments of lightheaded dizziness and describing his makeup as "weighing heavy". Antidote dresses him up as the perfect doll, a "bride-to-be ... something off of TV", while Cinderella poses him as a lovestruck girl and as a protective guy at the same time, contrasting lyrics like "I feel like a princess when I'm around you" with "And if he hurts you again, I'll fucking punch his teeth in". All this over a generally cloud-rap/chill-RnB instrumental. It's great.

Peterson plays a lot with these ideas of his own feminine fragility, but only on 2021's Love Power A-to-Z do they get fully realized. Looking at it, I could reasonably pinpoint track 2, Idol as the moment where these themes first shine through fully realized. His background in not only making hazy and chime-y ambient but also ghost producing for rappers and other indie musicians mixes perfectly here, a chuggy dance beat driving the standout line of "But, Mister, I love the way that you play with my hair". Idol ends with the lines:

One twist of the key, you break me completely
I'm on the floor tweaking, I look so pretty in pieces

These lines are gonna sit with me for a while. I'll see if, somewhere along the line, I can elaborate on why.

Track 3, Be U, is almost uniquely sinister -- another theme that Peterson draws on for this album is manipulative relationships. Here, it's likened in a familiar way to religion, on verse 2:

I left home for an evil world
I love it, it's scary
You dangle the cross around your neck
And I'm devoted, I'll do it

Vitamin, featuring production from Stockholm club favorite Oli XL, is about drugs, and in a way that can almost be extrapolated as controlling, with the lyrical progression of "Terrible night with him but baby I'm proud of me" to "I think I'm confused, tell me how to feel" to "I wanna pass out, we did something terrible" to the very end of "Having a bad night, okay, take the vitamin". Clay Me's chorus is straight up gaslighting:

All my friends are real, I swear
I met them all last year
You ask me, 'Wow, are you normal again?'
This is what happens with imaginary friends"

Dream Drop, the most popular piece off of Love Power, begins to experiment more with hazy dream metaphors, but ultimately is the most optimistic song here. Our main character, wracked with anxiety and having gone through all these things that happened to him in the last songs, meets someone new. The pre-chorus is remarkably heartfelt:

I met you at the movies
Take one for the team and hang with the weird guy
I felt so lame and stupid
'Til you told me that you already knew me

Ribbon Bone (Chalk Dancer) again featuring Oli XL, plays hard into the doll themes:

Break all of my ribbon bones
Leave me in the attic, that's my home

and the title track completely collapses from concrete reality and into the last strokes of a waking dream. It's pretty, and very open to interpretation lyrically:

I left space for you
We cascade onto
Ribs and stems of all the things we felt through
Pains of times we never came to

The thing that is so compelling about the beautiful fragility that Peterson's work revolves around is that that beauty is not a positive thing all the time. On Love Power specifically, it's been spun into disorienting, semi-disturbing peeks into abuse, presented through a lens of perfection and atmospherics. Everything is hazy and perfect when you're on enough hard drugs to disconnect you from reality. And what's even crazier: the initial point I came here to make was that Peterson's feminine stylizations of doll-like perfection, physically fragile beauty, was something that I intentionally was looking to embody. Dream Drop and the title track to Love Power are the only two songs I had listened to prior to listening to the album; these pieces do so very little to really encapsulate what the majority of the album is about. As much as I still want to make that point and talk about what it means to me, I would feel kind of conflicted in doing so. It would be wrong to talk about just that, because it leaves the rest of the album out, context that is almost direly necessary for the album, in the journey through each of the songs. All this pretty production, these feminine stylizations in the lyrics, they're a veneer, a curtain or a sheet draped over the album's content, used as a metaphorical focus beam. You hear these pretty chimy sparkly beats and you don't even realize that the album is about being abused! Peterson's vocal style even plays into this; his voice generally does not embody strong emotions. He's no Mariah Carey or Sam Smith, his general tone is that of resigned apathy, talking about his hair and his makeup and also the knowledge that the other guy in this relationship is really not good for him, and the descriptions of drugs as a form of control, gaslighting...

I came into this thinking I would be able to make a point about my gender, how Aidan Penn Peterson had nailed this nebulous concept of being a pretty boy-thing and how I had journeyed in my own struggle for identity to ultimately become okay with being exactly that. But in choosing to go for a deeper analysis of the album, it opened up a fucking Necronomicon of a musical work that tore my entire brain into pieces. I'm almost surprised that I've never seen these aspects talked about, like, anywhere else. There's a review for the album on RYM that just boggles my mind, which describes the lyrics as "kind and comforting". What? The comment box is just complaining about this perceived attempt at trying to be a bootleg Ecco2k. Like, did we listen to the same album? Am I reading too hard into this? I don't listen to Ecco2k too much but I'm almost 85% sure his lyrics aren't normally this explicit about abuse? Yeah, they're kinda druggy and definitely on the depressive side, but not like this.

So, uh, yeah. That's Love Power A-to-Z. It's a story about being pretty. And it's a story about being killed by it. It is a great listen, and you should listen to it.

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