Only one part of an ambitious and immersive world, Reagan Esther Myer delivers incisive social commentary through a retro-futuristic synth-pop sound.

Reagan Esther Myer is part concept album, part prophecy, and part satire. The synth-pop project from Somerville-based performance artist Rebecca Kopycinski tells the story of Reagan, a government drone in a hyper-automated dystopia whose brain implant glitches that allow her to think independently. The story’s conflict between technological capitalism and individuality is made audible ver eight tense, futuristic tracks, in which retro synths and distorted samples fight for space with Kopycinski’s serene vocals. The result is disturbing, memorable, and complex—a project that leaves more than a tune stuck in your head.

The opening seconds of “Mannequin,” the first track on the album, are representative of its mechanized cyber-punk sound. A crunchy synth made from a distorted vocal sample plays a droning arpeggio. Another vocoder dirge enters, off phase from the first; soon, lighter,sedative keys join like the music in a drug commercial. Throughout the album, Kopycinski’s crystalline, classically-trained voice struggles with this dystopian background. On tracks such as “Resurrection,” “Evolution,” and “Fight,” her vocals are full of human emotion—resignation, defiance, catharsis—that both cuts through and is imprisoned by the mechanical sounds of Reagan’s world.   

In many ways, this tension mirrors the conflict between Reagan and her society that drives the plot of the album. Constructing Reagan’s world, Kopycinski said her goal was to take our present day social problems to their extremes. She succeeds, at least in that these themes are obvious and worrisome. Kopycinski’s future is one where the government implants all citizens with a device that commodifies their thoughts and forces an underclass of baby-making women to repopulate the scorched Earth. In this dystopia, the darkest impulses of hyper-technological capitalism reign supreme, reducing all human life to a sinister quantification called “VALUE.”

Completing the link between the music and world of Reagan Esther Myer is a multimedia experience, which Kopycinski has previewed through images, videos, and an in-world website. At the Center for the Arts on June 27, Kopycinski will perform her songs amid singing mannequins, kaleidoscopic lights, and eyes that stare, unblinking, from a bank of CRT TVs. On one level, this staging seems to be a heavy-handed reflection of the hyperreality of Reagan’s world, where the divide between human and machine, real and simulated, has collapsed. But this visual experience also operates on a subtler level, foregrounding a side of Kopycinski’s critique that remains implicit in the music alone.

Visually, Reagan Esther Myer is more dated than it is futuristic. A mutant offspring the colorful, pixelated heyday of 80s MTV, Kopycinski’s version of the future has a campy feel. It’s theatrical, distanced from reality, and lets us feel comfortable, in on a joke. Yet Kopycinski turns this campy style towards real social criticism, and in doing so, upends our expectations. She makes us wonder: is the joke on us? With a caricature of capitalism in the White House, can we dismiss the camp aesthetic without closing off a valid form of critique? In our world, as in Reagan’s, isn’t the exaggerated and theatrical, in some ways, the most real?

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