Atmospheric and highly contextual, McSpice’s video is one puzzle piece in a collection of albums simulating and evoking the experience of a migraine.

“Challenger Deep”, the first song off of Kira McSpice’s July 2020 album, Aura, pulses and swells with an eerie surrealism. Layered, colorful nebulae of—what appear to be—mermaids, anemones, and coral reefs sway and pan with the music, blending into one another, riding on the crest of near-angelic vocals, building an atmosphere of free-floating immobility.

To McSpice, whose work tends to focus on a muted troubledness underlying the ambient and serene, this particular project aims to parallel the feeling and stages of a migraine headache, here through a music video made by Austin Joseph Gregory.

Aura is [quite literally] the second phase of the migraine, the phase that has visual disturbances,” she said.

The concept of “visual disturbances” surely hits the mark—at least from a reception standpoint. Around the 1:53 mark, a noticeable shift from a relatively open, blue-hued view of a coral reef to an all-red array of stalactites and stalagmites evokes prison bars and the sense of a trapped, prickly irritation that comes with migraines.

Both despite and in recognition of its visual disturbances, “Challenger Deep” continues to impress with transitions so seamless one almost misses it. McSpice’s ability to oscillate between stylistic extremes—for example, the coldness and somber color shifts of 0:41–0:50 to the overwhelming, kaleidoscopic and sliding visual barrage of 1:25–1:35—so smoothly and purposively is admirable.

The vocals blend with, and add enormously to, McSpice’s theme. It’s hard to tell where they start and end; the video begins in what sounds like the middle of a verse, almost like a fragmented sentence. McSpice’s voice layers, duplicates, and replicates throughout the rest of the piece, furthering that migrainesque feeling of listless, directionless ennui. It’s an ambience that’s easy to hone in on, while still easy enough to lose oneself within: Almost no beginning, a kind of vague ending; very labyrinthine.

McSpice noted how pairing Aura’s songs with video “changed how I approached it—I wanted to make songs that would go well with visuals… Will [Ponturo]’s synth and involvement really helped give Aura its unique feel.”

The ending of “Challenger Deep” comes almost like a punch in the stomach, largely because of that same comfortable-yet-uncomfortable feeling mentioned earlier. The whole video blends together so easily that the ending—in which a royal blue, blood red, and purplish body of water through which a mermaid swims away into the distance—interrupts the trance of it all, bringing everything back to reality.

Aura “has such a specific sound that’s so different from my other work, I really think it is the sound of an aura,” McSpice said. “I want listeners to feel that world and live inside it.” The album is the second in a series of four, beginning with 2019’s Prodrome, and will continue with Attack and Postdrome.

The whole essence of the video for “Challenger Deep” does just that, world-wise: swallowing up viewers in order to pull them into a two-minute-and-forty-six-second capital-E Experience. It doesn’t spell out or explicate what a migraine is, it shows us what it is; it is.

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