“I hope those that are unaware of the suffering that comes along with sexual assault will be confronted by the lyrics and I hope that those who can connect with the story can find healing within the songs, the same way it helped to heal me.” Kissy Fleur
Earlier this month Sydney singer/songwriter, harpist and producer Kissy Fleur released the dense and heightened Ripened Fruit, her debut album about rape. It tells the story of a young girl (Fleur herself) sexually assaulted at the age of fifteen in an unforgiving and unjust society unable or unwilling to talk about or deal with such crimes. Together its ten songs, which run more as a soundtrack than an album, are an intense and poignant mixture of pop, folk and electronic influences. And her primary instrument, the harp, plays a key role in establishing the contemplative space needed. They read like a three part chronology of the crime as Fleur appropriately captures both thoughts and details as the protagonist, a reflection of herself as she attempts to make sense of the tragedy. She does this by projecting forth the unsettling thoughts of the perpetrator while still focusing on the guilt and self doubt she felt. Rather than shying away from the act itself or tiptoeing around its raw jagged edges like society prefers to do, lyrically Fleur gives voice and agency to the girl’s graphic recollections and perspectives, unashamedly confronting the surreal horror of the crime head on in great cerebral and visceral detail. By confronting it, she makes it very clear that the entitlement, malevolence and misogyny that comes with toxic expressions of masculinity inherent, dominant and unchallenged in our culture makes violence against women inevitable. And ‘Ripened Fruit’, written before the #MeToo movement, begs the question, when can or will we talk about it?
Kissy Fleur was determined to get these taboos out in the open, to link the singular crime of rape and the personal recollections of a victim with the toxic masculine pall that afflicts greater society. She does this with a mixture of voices, her own as artist, the girl’s (ultimately hers) and tellingly, the rapist’s too. Making the album was not any easy process on a number of levels and one would imagine much rewriting and revision was done. It has taken five years for the album to see light and five years since the first track “Two Teaspoons Of Trouble” was written in the wake of the assault. While engaging but ultimately eschewing a number of producers as collaborators, in the end and probably unsurprisingly given the subject matter and Fleur’s singular focus, she continued determined to learn the production caper herself. From start to finish everything she did was DIY, the songwriting, the vocals, the instrumentation, the production and the release. And the lo-fi yet elevated bedroom like nature of the final recording gives the project the intimacy its subject matter deserves. A slick recording would have lessened the impact. Delivered in three parts, the album’s first four tracks deal with the lead up to the crime while its middle three tracks are where the crime is graphically detailed using a mixture of the literal and metaphor. The final section deals with the aftermath and charts the maze the girl is left to navigate as she attempts to make sense of the seemingly unfathomable. But by design the rape itself is kept at the forefront of the album throughout serving to remind us all that the crime of rape never leaves the mind of the girl or woman unfortunate enough to experience it.
The opening to the record ”Opening: Little Girl’ immediately traces the innocence lost and puts a child’s vulnerability astride the malevolence of the criminal mind. Whimsical keys are played against a sinister whistle to accentuate the gravity of the intention before ‘Where Are You Going Darling’ soundtracks the lustful mind with delicate instrumentation creating a sense of the surreal. On ‘Hunger Is A Hungry Stomach’ Fleur’s disarming childlike voice and use of non-lexical vocables together with the lightness of the keys and strings are juxtaposed against the heavy lyrics which focus in on the intent of a serial rapist, an entitled yet weak man beset with feelings of inadequacy and a constant need for validation, the essence of toxic masculinity unfulfilled;
“He’s been preying on the girls like me, He’s done this all before, Many times before, oh oh oh oh oh oh,
How the chaos puts back colour in his cheeks, as he’s waiting just to see me all alone, How far will he go? oh oh”.
This is a theme that Fleur returns to often on Ripened Fruit, linking the need for validation and control associated with male entitlement to violence and presenting this an an ever present danger for women. The second interlude ‘Look Inside’ begins with a Kate Bush inspired vocal arrangement before musically unfolding into a pastoral like contemplation which serves to foreshadow the unsettling and confronting subject matter on the three tracks to come.
On ‘Tic Tac Toe’ that unsettling and entitled whistle returns before its quickly silenced as the protagonist defiantly launches into a withering and taunting riposte of her rapist turning the disgusting crime back on him. Before she relives it, she disarms his impact. She also puts the shame and any notion of promiscuity fairly and squarely on his shoulders where they fuckin’ well belong. “No purity in your promiscuity, Lust’s a symptom of your insecurity.” Musically, her swagger to his menace reflects her lyrical riposte to the crime perfectly. The rape itself begins to be addressed on ‘The Garden Way’ and the link between toxic masculinity and sexual violence is made crystal clear. Just three minutes long, it constantly shifts in tone and mood reflecting the girl’s multitude of conflicting emotions. A singular ominous piano chord and the muffled vocal loop “he don’t give a damn” begins proceedings before Fleur repeats the ultimately pathetic line “Girl I’m gonna make you understand that I’m a man”. She then uses colour and imagery to reflect the vibrancy and potential of young life and mixes them with dark sonic hues to capture a sense of foreboding before the act that will adversely alter that young life forever. There’s a contrast of sweet and sour that simultaneously swirls through the instrumentation reflecting both the harrowing incident and the innocence he ultimately stole. Here Fleur alternates between using her muse and inserting herself into the picture both with back turned.
“With a great big splash he jumped into a piggy back, And she never looked back, no she never looked back, And she never looked back, no she never looked back, No I never looked back oh no, no I never looked back.”
On the album’s single ‘Conversations With Past Lovers’, Fleur continues to detail the crime in multiple layers and it is here its sickening horrors and effects are laid bare. It’s shifting mixture of delicately and emotively applied instrumentation twinkles and sparkles but there always a sense that something sinister is lurking below.
“My eyes they weep, Do what I’m told, His fingers wrapped around my cheeks, I try to scream, My voice dissolves… “He pours my bones into a ditch, My soul it pours out drip drip drip, And now he needs another hit, Now he needs another hit.”
As well as graphically detailing the crime Fleur also poses the multiple questions a girl or woman asks herself in its aftermath with just four lines;
“Conversations with past lovers, Hidden underneath the grass covers, And they’ll be the first to discover, That my thigh’s were touched by another”
How does a young woman put her life back together after enduring such horrific sexual violence? How does she ever reclaim what was stolen from her? How does she process the subject of sex with any positivity when this was her first sexual experience? How can sex ever be normalised without evoking horrific memories? How does she broach the subject with future partners and lovers?
The final third of the record deals with the feelings felt in the aftermath and represents the mixture of ever present bewilderment, anger and regret. It begins with the interlude, ‘You Are Falling Down” which musically reprises the previous track and reflects the dizzying downward spiral experienced in the crime’s immediate aftermath. That anger and frustration at what was stolen occupies the entirety of ‘Sedated (Forbidden Fruit). An unsettling sound begins the track before giving way to a contemplative circular synth motif that becomes more warped and dark as the track progresses. Fleur relates the sense of anger at what it’s like to feel helpless and violated and how a life can be forever altered dramatically in a matter of minutes by the actions of one person. She relays the feeling that many rape victims feel, that their failed actions or inaction during the violent crime is somehow akin to giving in, as if being physically overpowered or being forced into shock was a choice, “I Faded for you, I wasted for you, Sedated by you…” And the thought that they gave the rapist what he wanted by not stopping him, “You pursued, I refused, You induced, I’m infused”. In the clear light of day she knows it was all beyond her control but its easily understandable that in dark moments intense frustration emerges at being unable to physically defend yourself or get away; “I never saw you coming, I should have kept on running.” Despite it being an unfair and self defeating question, asking herself what could I have done to stop it, will still occupy the mind forever.
The final track ‘Two Teaspoons Of Trouble” is perhaps the most poignant and pointed track of all and the first written in the wake of the crime. There’s both a sadness and defiance here that encapsulates the essence of the entire album. And it goes directly to society’s inability to deal with rape, its inability to deliver justice to its victims, its inability to deliver justice for women at all. A society driven by a culture that still gives men a free pass for leering and predatory behaviour, apportions parts of the blame on to women for the violence that’s afflicted on them and one that doesn’t allow them to express their sexuality freely without judgement or comment. It doesn’t even allow them to talk about the crimes that are committed against them and be really listened to. Fleur takes this up immediately in the track’s opening lines. Her wry delivery of them as a reminder of the casual and immature social attitudes to sexual assault and how this makes the sufferer feel are almost heartbreaking,
“Eat me up, Spit me out, That’s okay, Run away, run away, run away, run away,
Such a sight, Her fruit’s ripe, That boy’s got a big appetite, and that’s okay, that’s okay, that’s okay”
While it’s not clear, the lines that include the title “one morsel of muscle, two teaspoons of trouble” could refer to how one violent act could cause pain for victims on two levels, the first teaspoon of trouble is the crime itself and the second, the lack of justice in its aftermath. The line, “Three minutes for months of misery” is telling. As is the final line of the album “It goes without consequences”.
Fleur never intended this record to be one of social or political commentary but its very essence, nature and content as well as how and why it was made, make it one and make it one with immense power. DIY in production from start to finish, she was determined to present it as the personal experience of a victim of rape, giving her thoughts and feelings a voice as she tries to make sense of her pain and trauma. And while she speaks from personal experience, she never plays the helpless victim at any stage and is always looking to move the conversation forward as starkly and as clearly as possible. But part of the healing process is also to make sense of the unspeakable, the unfathomable and by delving into the mind of the rapist and the society that produces him, she exposes his immaturity, his weaknesses, his inadequacies and ultimately the immaturity, weaknesses and inadequacies inherent in the male dominant society that produced him.
With ‘Ripened Fruit’ Kissy Fleur, has courageously announced herself as an artist of great substance from a place of great pain and suffering. It must not have been an easy decision to announce herself as an artist with an album about rape nor one to make the whole thing on your own from start to finish. But that says volumes about who she is as a person and matters not whether it came from personal need or otherwise. While this has clearly served to empower Fleur herself, its also a work of empowerment for girls and women on so many levels. Through confronting rape head on and and putting her voice front and centre however discomforting, Fleur has made a record that gives both inspiration, solace and great strength to other survivors of sexual crimes. By being confrontational she brings the subject unashamedly out into the open where it needs to be, forcing people to face its horrific nature. And by cleverly and courageously exposing the weakness and ultimate futility inherent in toxic male culture, she reminds us all of the type of courage that is needed to elevate traits of love, care, understanding and respect to become the new standard for what it means to be a strong person in this society.
James Stocker – April 17, 2018
Ripened Fruit is self released and out now. Sample the album by streaming it below via Soundcloud and you can purchase a digital copy of the album from the artist’s Bandcamp page here.
Ripened Fruit (Full Album Stream)
Kissy Fleur (AUS)