On the back of last month’s Cyberpunk Music Dossier here’s this month’s Cyberpunk Music Dossier. Assembled from hastily-plastered flyers found on digital billboards across the internet for your perusal, presented in no particular order, a mixture of fresh releases and one of two recent classics that may have escaped your attention. Are your headphones in yet?
This one just missed last month’s Dossier, released into the wild on the 7th of September. Welcome to Cyboria marks the fourth Xetrovoid release this year. With a running time of slightly over fifteen minutes it won’t take long for you to make up your own mind on this one. The album art should clue you into the sound about the be unleashed; expect tales of a burned-out landscape where human survivors are stalked by their own implacable creations.
My favourite was Night Patrol. The tempo is notably slower than that of the first two tracks, and I’d say it’s more to my tastes than the first half of the EP. There’s a gentle sweep to the music on offer here, a broader blend of sounds and motifs that work well together where the machine-like sounds of the rest of the album left me cold. When Xetrovoid comes knocking with another EP I’ll be waiting.
Feet crunch against gravel and so begins Wolf, the new release from synth artist Code Elektro. Having had this on my playlist for a few weeks of on-and-off listening I’m no closer to an opinion on it that I was at the first play through. The sound is cinematic, evocative of a motion picture soundtrack, with a texture to it that shines on a decent set of speakers. Lost In Time, complete with a soaraway electric guitar solo stands out as a particularly enjoyable piece towards the end of the album.
In striving for a cinematic feel, however, Wolf doesn’t succeed for me. There’s a lack of context that means individual tracks have to stand on their own merits. There’s no story to stitch them together, and while a more educated ear might pick out familiar refrains in the music that identify returning characters or themes I couldn’t pick them out. There is nostalgia, though. The saxophone in Postlude surging against rhythm guitar elevates the outro of the album into classic 80s soundtrack territory. The synth line of Scandinavia breathes out like cold nordic air, narrating a cold night in Stockholm. The album feels like a great backdrop to long sessions of tabletop rather than an active listen. Code Elektro will be well worth watching to find out where this sound goes next.
Digital Oceans is the first release by Kolton Holbrook under the banner of Cryounit. The theme here is one of digital horror, lyrics describing analogue life under the uncaring eye of a CMOS sensor feeding 0s and 1s back to a database and a fuzzy logic that doesn’t care beyond an if or an endif. Cryounit views the world without a care for your analogue concerns. Your decisions are data points, not emotional judgements, information to feed into an algorithm instead of sentences in a personal story.
The production values here are excellent. Cryounit have put out a sound that evokes the feelings of darkwave and downtempo electronic as well as any other that I’ve heard. Vocally, lyrically, there’s something to be desired. The latter tracks – Neon City Streets and Sea of Information – are all the better for their limited level of vocal distraction. That’s not to say that a good vox can’t work with this kind of music, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark for me this time.
Synthesizers fire like laser beams. A theramin warbles from beyond. A siren sounds and less than thirty seconds have elapsed since Black Saucers, the opening track on Hollywood Burns’ First Contact EP. The EP was a total surprise to me; while I recognised the name ‘Volkor X’ nothing else was familiar. Themes of 50’s horror movies permeate the sound of the First Contact EP. The theramin of Black Saucers, the synth organ of Cult of C, the bleep-bloop of mainframe computers filling up rooms and spooling reels of punch-code print-out in Came to Annihilate before the theramin from beyond rejoins the sound on offer. The First Contact EP is an unashamedly entertaining listen and frustratingly that makes classification and description difficult. The individual tracks have enough about each of them that the surprises they hold and the way they foreshadow later tracks could get a few hundred words out of me at the cost of spoiling the surprise for you.
Instead what I will do is say that First Contact EP is actually the second release by Hollywood Burns. Californian Nightmare, released at the end of 2015, is a two-track rough-cut compared to First Contact EP. The ideas are there but the polish is not. None of that detracts from how good the EP is, or how much I’ve enjoyed it, but it does show the leap in quality that’s come out of collaboration. A leap in theme from 50’s B-movies to late 70’s and early 80’s cyberpunk flicks might scratch my particular itch a little more appropriately but I really don’t regret any time spent listening to the crackle of flames as Hollywood Burns.
Phone Sex. I can’t judge this one on duration alone. What might be long enough to satisfy one listener may be enough to leave another frustrated. Instead I’ll try to frame this for you through a cyberpunk lens. There are no sonic vistas of sandy beaches at sunset, waves lapping at the shore while you lean back against the warm metal of your DeLorean here. This is the sound of a john smoking a cigarette under an awning in the rain, late at night, barely visible from the street, glitching out.
There’s no single point of entry for Phone Sex that I would recommend over another. Intimacy perhaps offers the best blend of lo-fi sound, unsettling lyrical content, and dirty VCR head distortion, but to take one piece and discard the rest would be an easy way out from the experience. Put Phone Sex on at the beginning and persevere until the end. Its sound is of repurposed equipment serving unexpected uses, telling tales from a point of view hovering somewhere around the bottom of street level. Its sound is simple drum machine beats, reverb heavy vocals, and sometimes twee-sounding synth bubbling up on top of digital bleeps and bloops. If the sound of cyberpunk is going to avoid sinking into safe repetition of familiar forms then EPs like Phone Sex are a necessary component.
To explain my confusion about the title here, Modular Reaper Imager was linked to me via Veritas from a Soundcloud page. My first impression here was one of overdosing on early Nine Inch Nails and slow-tempo Ministry. That’s an impression reinforced, too, by the artwork. A flesh-debrided steer’s skull adorns a composite of industrial towers, chemical cabling, and a backdrop of anonymous human skulls.
Of the offerings that Modular Reaper Imager has for us my favourite was Slaughter Home. The pace is slow and methodical, the sound evolving from industrial-age to automated manufacture, and then around two minutes in the darkness descends and the mechanised production of Slaughter Home serves a new purpose. The instrumental offerings that Modular Reaper Imager presents would provide a great soundscape to terrify at a tabletop game, or failing that, a way to unsettle co-workers when they catch a whisper from your headphones and you stare up, red-eyed, from reviewing someone else’s code commits.
That was your Cyberpunk Music Dossier for October. If you’re reading this in the future, hello from the past! If you’re reading this in the present, what did you think? What would you like more of? Who would you like to see mentioned in the Cyberpunk Music Dossier for November? Did we miss something you consider essential? Our spare CPU cycles are waiting for your comments…