In a world still sadly ruled and regulated by the patriarchy, Riches are making room for new perceptions, new passions, and new ways of performing.
I’m not a fan of horror movies. As a kid, I instinctively knew this without ever watching one. It wasn’t until I took a film class in high school where Halloween was part of the curriculum that I had ever intentionally sat through one from start to finish. By that point, I theoretically understood their appeal — an entertaining and cathartic way of modulating emotions and exploring evil — but didn’t need them to confirm or deny the imaginary horrors in the dark I spent years fearing as a child.
On the other hand, Catherine McCandless (from Young Galaxy) and choreographer Wynn Holmes have no trouble with horror films, either real or imaginary. Together as the multidisciplinary group Riches, the pair have christened Fantasy Chapel, their debut full length, a “soundtrack to an imaginary horror film.” Again, I get the appeal: the best horror movies feature incredible soundtracks and scores to heighten and underscore the tension and release activated by the images on the screen. The kind of horror that Riches channels is less blood-and-gore slasher and more cerebral interdimensional mindfuck. Take album opener “More Alive Than Ever,” a song that draws its power not from what it has, but what it lacks. McCandless’s deep, velvety vocals emulate an ancient incantation set against the music’s droning, rhythm-and-melody-free wash of synths and atmospherics. It is a dense, amorphous swirl of smoke and fog, conjured by spells and magic.
“More Alive Than Ever” serves as a mystical portal from which the rest of Fantasy Chapel unfurls. It is a song cycle driven by an unseen but ever-present power, something the band describes as a “devotion to a creative force, where the act of creation is a kind of summoning.” From her time in Young Galaxy, McCandless is no stranger to making music that makes people dance, but what’s fascinating about Riches is Holmes’s influence on the music’s fluidity. I never considered the possibility that somebody could choreograph sound, but Holmes finds a way to inform movement through the music. It’s there in the liting pace of the album’s title track and in the glacial, majestic flow of “Eyes Open But Not Looking.” “Nakedness” has a similar pulse and rhythm to “Spirit,” Riches’ first single (sadly not included on Fantasy Chapel), soaked in ritual and steeped in atmosphere.
Throughout, a set of interstitials called “Thresholds” act as musical and metaphorical direction signs, guiding both Riches and the audience through Fantasy Chapel’s parallel universe. In a way, they serve as both welcome and warning: with each “Threshold,” McCandless and Holmes receive you with open arms while simultaneously absolving themselves of any responsibility of what may psychologically befall you once you enter. It is, after all, their world, and we are merely guests (albeit with an open invitation to stay as long as we want). This unapologetic flexing of the feminine power and spirit makes Fantasy Chapel such an absorbing experience. That Riches have chosen to frame their exploration of female creativity and energy as “horror” (either real or imaginary) is both a shameful tragedy and comedic farce. In a world still sadly ruled and regulated by the patriarchy, Riches are making room for new perceptions, new passions, and new ways of performing.