There’s no ceremony when unix time clicks over to 1483228801. Welcome to 2017. Please applaud. Fortunately where a change in date and time has failed to deliver a cause for celebration music can be played to fill the void; January’s cyberpunk music dossier has you covered.
You know Stilz; you know him by reputation and by review here at Neon Dystopia. I’ve been warmly praiseful in the past having described his music as having a filmic quality or being a standout on a generally enjoyable ensemble album. Starcrash is another evolution on his journey, his first release on Lazerdiscs Records, and an example of the power that comes from working with other excellent artists. To be clear Starcrash plays up to many of the things I love about synthwave. I’ll try to control my praise.
Without wanting to dilute the praise due to Stilz, Starcrash is the recipient of a great Sam Todhunter cover, has been polished to perfection by one of my synthwave favourites – Absolute Valentine – and calls on two other Karate King Records collaborators; Takahashi Jones and The Encounter. What you’re in for is synthwave with a science fiction styling; synth that twinkles like stars in the night sky, a beat that thrums like a hyperdrive idling. Escape From Hyperion was my standout; there’s a blending of urgency with an undertone of unknowable menace that culminates by merging the two streams in a final battle to escape the eponymous Hyperion that eventually winds down with a distant howl. The description doesn’t do it justice, just wait until you hear it.
December’s Music Dossier is some way in the past now, so far so that my own memories of writing and reviewing for it required refreshing because I was sure we’d jumped the gun on the new Circle of Dust album, Machines of Our Disgrace. We had. The album came out to reviews just as excited as I’d been by the preview tracks. If you’re scanning between my commentary and the video above, work on your multitasking by pulling up the lyrics in another tab.
Fifteen years ago we had Fear Factory warning of the merging of man and machine in Digimortal. Now that the distance between theoretical and physical has narrowed to micrometers, Circle of Dust are pointing out that our abilities are outstripping our capacity to predict the outcome.
Humanizer. Consider this one an invitation to explore more from Powercyan’s back catalogue. If you’ve got an affinity for EDM/EBM then this is already for you; it’s high tempo, high energy, like pupils contracting as you step from darkness into light. Five minutes and thirty-three seconds isn’t anywhere near long enough to get a proper feel for what Powercyan has to offer. If I was to criticise, I’d say that Humanizer’s ending is too abrupt and that the robotic vocals could benefit from being re-tuned as I felt the sound jarred too much towards the end of the song, but it’s hard to get a proper feel when you’re only listening for five and a half minutes.
I try to keep the music presented in each Cyberpunk Music Dossier current. The artists on offer are picked by a mixture of Veritas leaving me data drops at arranged locations with one-time pad codes for encryption and my own investigative work. You’ll understand that it’s a little unusual for me to go back and retrieve artifacts from the past for a Music Dossier but that’s what happened here.
This Means War was released on bandcamp back in June 2016 after a gestation period over over nine months; a prior Halloween EP, Masked Death, preceded the arrival of This Means War. There are shades of Perturbator and Carpenter Brut to the whole thing; have a listen to Masked Death and you’ll hear the influence of familiar themes in synthwave. Tie in some nods to the evergreen sound of a John Carpenter soundtrack and douse it with electric guitar and you’re there. The title track is what, I suspect, most listeners will take away from this as the most memorable in spite of the general polish on display from the first track to the last. The Sylvain Coudret guitar solo that spans the final minutes alone should be enough to imprint the name of Volkor X into your memory.
The album is good. Obviously so when you listen to it, but a glance at the thanks for the album should show you how well integrated the synthwave ecosystem is and help to explain the commonalities between albums. At worst this can result in flat, forgettable releases. At best this can elevate a good idea – an album about an evil overlord – into a great execution – This Means War.
Synthetic Emotions scraped into this month’s dossier at the last moment. Ordinarily, I like to give an album a few listens to form a full opinion of it. In this case, I’ve gone straight on gut instinct and listens that dance across the spectrum of this frankly extensive album. North Exit is telling their story about a world a few generations removed from the present where androids are omnipresent. One where they liberate humans from the dignity of work; lovers, slaves, killers. A world where TYGER CORP has made the mistake of repurposing one of their CARLi androids for civilian purposes.
There’s a lot to take in on Synthetic Emotions. A start-to-finish listen is asking for over 90 minutes of your time and I think that’s asking a lot of a potential purchaser. As a background album it’s got great potential but a casual listener is likely to dip into the album at random intervals. Think of it as a data dive; load the web page, secure the assets, exfiltrate. Come back for the whole thing if your buyer likes the samples.
A short one to finish my contribution to the first Cyberpunk Music Dossier of the year. Around the same time that I was reading my first Shadowrun sourcebook a small an unremarked musical genre was born and expired in the UK. The genre was shoegaze, and it was introverted as the word sounds. To hear the sound reproduced and represented with an injection of synthwave a generation later is oddly comforting. Missing Words have managed to preserve the soul, but the sound is perhaps too clean to really evoke the sound of the 90s. The longing in the vocals is as bittersweet as it always was. Hold off on this one if you’ve got frail heart strings.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got an file on Slack from… Chris Tolwyn?
$ tar -zxvf th3yre_0nt0_U.tgz
$ openssl rsautl -decrypt -ssl -inkey ~/.ssh/id_rsa -in key.enc -out ct0lwyn
$ openssl aes-256-cbc -d -in secret.txt.enc -out secret.txt -pass file:ct0lwyn
> extracted file ‘Chris_Tolwyn_Search_Results’
$ sed '$ a\
> Chris_Tolwyn_Search_Results' 2016-01-06_dossier
> appending in progress...
England’s Patient Zero takes on viroid industrial pop that is loaded with earworms, but like most viruses left me in a cold sweat. That said, Hot System is a fairly solid effort. PZ knows how to pen an apocalyptic dancefloor filler, as evidenced by tracks like Anna Kissed Me and Black Ice Breaker. There are hooks aplenty and some interesting choices of sound within the compositions that sound great at high volumes. The lyrical content veers towards the political with anti-capitalist, anarchist and LGBTQ themes, which provides decent counterpoint to the catchiness of the music.
Unfortunately, at 17 tracks the album is excessive, and tunes like Bloody Techno and Bodywork add little to the album, feeling more included for the sake of completion. Ultimately, Host System provides plenty of action for you to shake your firm and danglies to, but falls just short of the mark. Le’ts blame it on the excessive runtime and lack of variation. However, if you like your viruses sugar-coated and strewn in glitter then give it a go. There’s fun to be had here, even with a snotty nose and fever.
Well if this isn’t some paranoid and expansive glitchfuckery, I don’t know what is. Darksleep’s Animal Intelligence riffs on themes of consciousness and the post-human singularity. It’s less viewed through a lens of subtle exploration and more hammer-smashed directly into your face. Expect viscera and fleshy mince.
The Buffalo, NY act bring their concept t to fruition via transcendent ‘verbed-out synths off-set by the screech of computer load-screens. Uplifting ambiance melds with the harshest noise, before skittery breaks, jungle thumps and very Euro-sounding gabba blow it all away in a euphoric headache of pills, booze and intravenous coding. The composition is tight and many of the singular elements are present across a variety of tracks, somehow retaining their own sense of identity. The perfect soundtrack to trepanning. Go free your digital soul.
Meanwhile, in the dream world of Avon, Indiana, The Beautiful New Age Relaxation Tapes conjure holistic soundscapes to ease the comedown. Left wandering the halls of the digital netherworld, S u n s e t P a r a d i s e’ six tracks of ambient drone and plunderphonics harken twilight hours where nothing quite seems real anymore. In ‘Rumours of Winter’, strings don’t glide, but drift at a glacial pace, and ‘Awake Too Long’s incorporeal airport announcements might just be figments of the collective psyche.
Even in its coldest moments, S u n s e t P a r a d i s e retains a gentle warmth that ensures we are never quite lost, and that there is always hope of a worldly return. Having never been to Avon, Indiana, I can only begin to imagine why such otherworldly sounds emanate from its hub. There is every possibility that much like TBNART, each of the 16,500 occupying citizens exist not as persons but experiments, one foot firmly planted in a great utopic vision that will spread virally before consuming us all.
> append operation complete
> vi 2016-01-06_dossier
That was your Cyberpunk Music Dossier for 1483228801. The future is uncertain, a dark alley with a moist wind breathing down on you, but there’s a light in the distance; your contact, cigarette in hand, waiting to brief you. Update your weak passwords, gentle readers, and join us again next month for another Cyberpunk Music Dossier.