Thoughts on new music from May, wrapped up in a tidy package. I bet these people don’t get much direct sunlight.
DYLAN ETTINGER – Lifetime Of Romance
Variations on The Human League circa Fast Product: dour synthesizer music twisted into recognizable form via a sneaky pop streak. At its best (“Disparager,” “Arco Iris”), Lifetime Of Romance grooves – not by being especially clubby or danceable, but by possessing a rhythmic centre that holds the fort while Ettinger lobs sore-throated, son-of-Todd Baechle wails into the abyss. Nobody’s idea of a gifted singer, Ettinger’s brief stanzas – verses as mantras, really – are another instrument in the mix, towered over by mountains of reverb and Moog bursts, but they’re hardly throwaway, and occasional detours into falsetto are startling and even a little amusing. There’s an urgency in the vocals that’s hard to dislike, which is sort of how I feel about Lifetime Of Romance in general: it’s dark music – think those fiery orange/red/purple Manhattan skies Spider-Man swung through in the ‘60s Ralph Bakshi cartoons – but it’s got a brawny energy that belies the initial impression of cold stasis. “Maude” embodies this best: icy pads hover for four minutes with guest saxophone providing a rattling human counterpoint to Ettinger’s burbling synthscape, before a creaky “Nightclubbing” CompuRhythm pattern refocuses the song for the second four-minute segment, an anguished Disintegration-like essay on sundered domesticity.
KILLING JOKE – MMXII
Here’s the force of nature that is Killing Joke, back for a second helping with the reconstituted original lineup and firing on every damn cylinder. The Mayan calendar tolls for Jaz Coleman as Ragnarok did 30 years prior; whether that leads to tomfoolery this time ‘round (read: band-splintering skedaddling to Iceland to escape the maaaadness) only time’ll tell, but while we wait, enjoy this doomsday soundtrack. Loads of good stuff here. In an era marked by stifling compression on hard music, top-dog mixing here grants all sorts of room for the arrangements to roam. Every major facet of the complex Killing Joke sound’s accounted for: ominous dub-throb, galloping dance-punk, metallic brawling, even a healthy return to Brighter Than A Thousand Suns-style synthpop. It’s not scattershot variety for variety’s sake, either: MMXII plays like a custom-built festival bill of likemindeds edited down to an invigorating 50-minute highlight package. Coleman adapts his singing accordingly: I haven’t heard his ice-cool “Love Like Blood” croon so much in years, but it sounds terrific amid the sphincter-clenched punk yowls and full-throated bellowing. Whatever he takes for sore throats, I want. My own preference for “Pssyche”/”Bloodsport”-styled dance music is covered by “Rapture,” “Colony Collapse” and “Trance,” excellent tunes in varying rhythmic settings (piledriving, swinging and chugging, respectively); those with a yen for sprawling, half-speed Joke are well served by great album bookends in “Pole Shift” and “On All Hallow’s Eve.” Joke’s politics are all over the record: “FEMA Camp” essays rumoured American-based internment camps for high-risk citizens; several songs outline environmental failings and technological overreliance in the face of stiff corporate rule. The lyric sheet’s filled with URLs for further reading. That the links will evolve or disappear entirely over time encapsulates the Joke conundrum: learn and act now or surrender this toe-hold. MMXII’s grim and critical outlook isn’t rounded out by scepticism – “marvel at the mysteries of quantum immortality” and “bring gifts and spirits, good wine…light up the graveyards to show how much we all care” sound like words by those who intend to dance around the bonfires while they wait out the apocalypse. That glimmer of sunlight delivers MMXII from the stigma of single-minded browbeating. All in all, a vivid, arresting album.
LIONESS – The Golden Killer
The two guys wear full face-covering skulls onstage, which is impressively ludicrous. I don’t mean to laugh at Lioness because it’s possible they’re dead serious about this, and I started listening to pop in an era defined by Adam Ant’s “ridicule is nothing to be scared of” mantra. Still, #Lulz. Compelling in controlled amounts, the music of Lioness more-or-less picks up where controller.controller left off in 2006 (Jeff Scheven and Ronnie Morris were members): regimented, vigorous death-disco that sounds great if you walk in halfway through one of their support slots with other stuff on your mind, but lacks the creative panache to withstand the rigors of an LP. It’s not like I can pick out any rotten songs, but The Golden Killer has as much variety as a steakhouse’s prix fixe menu after last seating. The girl singer makes an impressive sound – lion on a hot tin roof – which is I imagine much easier without wearing a skull.
CRAFT SPELLS – Gallery
A mildly disappointing EP that seeks to add a little punch to Idle Labor’s pastel-hued Factory Records post-punk, but doesn’t quite have the songs to finish the transition of power. Among the moves: Justin Vallesteros no longer sounds like Ian Curtis at the other end of a long tunnel – he’s got a better voice than most of his Captured Tracks brethren and he’s wisely pushed it up in the mix. And even though the bass playing’s less propulsive than it was on Idle Labor, the momentum’s earned back with everything else in crisper colours. Although attractively dreamy, Gallery is also a little lazy (consider “Still Left With Me”’s overreliance on an unadventurous riff, and the next track’s very similar chorus melody). The clear highlight – the aptly named “Burst” – mixes thrusting bass, chiming guitars, a direct drum attack and a beachy vibe that wouldn’t be out of place on New Order’s Technique. (No chorus, either, and I didn’t notice ‘til about the fifth time through. Nice one.) But for all the careful cropping and composition, Gallery’s edges have curled up in the sun.