It’s been a year since I started writing these. I still haven’t been offered a job as a licensed cyberlimb repairman, nor have I taken to operating exclusively out of backstreet squats or abandoned strip-malls bypassed by soaring overhead highways, but automated 18-wheelers are on their way so who knows how long it will be until I hitch rides from city to city, a flesh tick on a metal body. While I wait, allow me to present to you this month’s Cyberpunk Music Dossier.
Michael Oakley – California
As the opening track of Micheal Oakley’s EP California plays you can all but feel the saran wrap being pulled from the tape, all but smell the fresh earth and musty air that’s sat in a time capsule since 1988. California is the tip of the spear for the 80s aesthetic brought up to date for 2017. The sound is an emotionally-charged, soft-focused, dust-motes-in-sunset synthesizer festival and a testament to the democratisation of music creation. The songs are a little too long for the period – the title track coming closest to the three-minutes-forty-five-seconds sweet spot on the distribution plot – but that isn’t a criticism, just an observation. The EP runs for 26 minutes from the foley recording a tape hitting the deck to the final synth fade in End of Summer without filler or appreciable drops in production value.
Rabbit In The Headlights is my pick for you; everything about this one hits the right notes. Just the right amount of reverb at just the right points. Synths swell and break like waves lapping a shoreline. For a first EP, California as a whole is wonderfully professional and Rabbit In The Headlights gives a great first impression. It’s evocative while still delivering the emotional underpinnings that good retrowave strives for, hangs around just long enough to be enjoyed without selling the listener short, and sets the scene for a superb first effort.
Various Artists – Tears In Rain: A Tribute to Blade Runner
Tears In Rain is one of those compilations I’ve been meaning to recommend for a while. With the recent release of Blade Runner 2049, October feels like as good a month as I’ll ever have. Tears In Rain is a sprawl of a tribute that covers almost two hours and over a dozen artists. It’s luxurious in length, almost indulgently so, and makes use of this duration to plot a course through the wake of the Vangelis soundtrack to the original Blade Runner that cleaves close to the original. At times it sparkles; Hawkdream’s offerings are particularly reminiscent of the source material, whereas other contributors make more of an effort to be inspired by and drive in a slightly different direction.
I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to suggest that the Venn Diagram of Blade Runner fans and Neon Dystopia readers is essentially a circle, and as such I think that Tears In Rain is going to be broadly enjoyable to you. As to a specific song from the compilation I’ve called on Night Note’s contribution; Bladerunner 2010. For me this one feels like a fistful of snapshots from Los Angeles in 2019 taken at street level and nails the evocative nature of a good soundtrack. Open your ears, close your eyes, and imagine the scent of tears in the rain.
False Door – Nature’s Rare Aesthetic Mistakes
I’ve been following Pinkbox Teleport’s releases for a little while now and have unearthed an array of interesting oddities. Nature’s Rare Aesthetic Mistakes continues the pattern with artist False Door’s ruminations on our human entanglement with technology, turning the spiritual into the consumable. As with anything out of Pinkbox Teleport, Nature’s Rare Aesthetic Mistakes is a little out-there and closer to art than music, which is to say it’s derived from music that I’m not familiar with. If there’s a mass-market relation, it’s maybe progressive dance by way of vaporwave.
And that, neatly, segues into my pick for you: Malice Coldtrance. It’s trying to tell me something; radio-play style bleeps and bloops and the winding-up of tape drives in an ancient mainframe, the dull, distant threat of bassline synth, and, at the end of it, mall-core vaporwave as you exit through the gift shop. Is it cyberpunk? Yes, this is cyberpunk.
Rifhes – Neuromancer
Much like one of my other notes in this month’s dossier Neuromancer is inspired by a touchstone of cyberpunk culture, namely William Gibson’s eponymous novel. Neuromancer the album isn’t intended as soundtrack or re-presentation of the original work, however, but inspired by it. From what I can glean the album’s artist, Rifhes, is more normally found working as a DJ spinning drum and bass in Guadalajara, Mexico. That foundation is evident throughout Neuromancer and is, at times, overwhelming but given the source it’s also understandable.
Neuromancer as a whole displays an impressively frantic urgency. This is exquisitly evident throughout the track Pitchshifter; 6.56 of drum and bass and a soundscape that would suit a chase through an urban nightmare. Scratchy electronics compete with a clipped drumline vaulting over each other in a track that for my tastes runs a little long in the middle third but ties back together for the final ninety seconds. Neuromancer as a whole is going to appeal to a Neon Dystopia reader with an interest in an outside perspective on American cyberpunk, but I think it’s going to resonate best with those of you who like their music with smoke machines, lasers, and warehouses crowded with people.
Scandroid – Monochrome
I didn’t love Scandroid’s Neo Tokyo as much as I should have on first listen, but I’m capable of admitting when I’m wrong and in that vein I decided to hold off on this month’s Cyberpunk Music Dossier in order to get Monochrome listened to and typed about. Klayton has done himself proud with this Scandroid release and I tip my cap to him. Monochrome has the exactingly professional production that you’d come to expect from someone with a slew of releases, but better than that it gets to the heart of what synthwave is about. The sound is the result of a critical listen to albums of the eighties, the extraction of signature themes, and the re-production with a modern eye. Scandroid covers the Michael Jackson hit Thriller – if that’s not a statement of where the sounds of Monochrome derive then all I can say is you’ll have to tweet at Klayton and demand he sticks a Genesis cover somewhere in the bonus tracks of the next album.
The title track of Monochrome, Monochrome, is a weird one. It’s a good one, but it rolls over territory that shouldn’t work – Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals – and somehow makes it work with an electric keytar sound subbing for a church organ, kick drum as marching boot of progress, and a rather nice bit of vocal mixing toward the very end of the track. Sophomore albums are hard though, and as I mentioned at the start I didn’t love Neo Tokyo when I first listened to it anywhere near as much as I do in hindsight. Monochrome hews a little too close to its influences at times – Thriller, and The Force Theme, and a remix of the remix of Thriller – but the momentum is there in Monochrome in sufficient quantity that I’ve got a space pencilled in for whatever comes next out of Scandroid.
Alphane Reality Generator – Music for the Robot Revolution
If Music for the Robot Revolution is the herald of our coming mechanical extinction, then I am prepared to fall under the uncaring metal feet of our oppressors. Alphane Reality Generator have, so I understand, released this as a warning to us to act while there is still time. They have stolen the machines plan – glitches intact – and shaped them into an electro-industrial album replete with stolen samples of robotic conversations. “Metal Is Stronger Than Flesh” is a common refrain; and while on the surface this is a true statement, its repetition leads me to believe that we may have a chance to win if they robots are in need of constant positive reinforcement. Well, you have a chance to win. I’ll be jacked into a BTL reliving this album as the shadow falls over my city.
The first half of Music for the Robot Revolution sounded stronger than the second half with Two Point Three Percent being a personal high water mark. Maybe I’m just lacking in endurance, but having gone from a very dense and oppressive beginning with frequent stylistic returns to early Nine Inch Nails, Two Point Three Percent was a little lighter in tone but still in keeping with the heavy use of roboticised vocals throughout the album along with 8-bit synth lines and tongue-in-cheek theft from ancient video game soundbanks. I never really know what I’m going to end up covering at the start of a month, but Music for the Robot Revolution was a low-fi pleasure to listen to.
Gregorio Franco – The Dark Beyond
The Dark Beyond, from Atlanta, Georgia’s Gregorio Franco, is a darksynth album tapped from the same vein that artists like Gost and Occam’s Laser draw inspiration from. The Dark Beyond came out a little too early in the year to surf the late-October darksynth wave that peaks around Halloween, and as I’ve done a good job of avoiding back-to-back darksynth album mentions in this dossier I felt it appropriate to bring up a release that might have slipped your notice. To give The Dark Beyondits due, it doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. It’s got an aggressively paced and slasher film inspired sound that veers towards the realms of supernatural horror.
I flipped a coin between Midnighter and Grave of Madness to close out my comments on The Dark Beyond. Both good listens, but while Grave of Madness slowly claws its way out of freshly tilled dirt, Midnighter follows you down dark country roads, high beams flashing, light reflecting from the butcher knife waving above your pursuer’s steering wheel. My meagre vocabulary restricts me from doing justice to the description so I’ll say that I really liked the percussion and the low-range warble as the whole thing made the hairs on the backs of my arms stand up. I’d personally avoid the punch at a party playing this kind of music, but you may wish to live more dangerously than I.
And that’s your dossier for October! I never manage to cover everything I want to, but if you feel unjustly served then you’re welcome to leave comments below or drop emails to Neon Dystopia which Isaac will forward on to me. There’s always more good stuff being released than I have time to listen to – what would you like to see more of? Remember, the squeaky cyberlimb joint is the one that gets the lubricant!
Amazing selection!! Thanks for sharing
Isaac L. Wheeler (Veritas)
Grendel’s “Age of the Disposable Body” should probably get on the next dossier – to me Grendel has always embodied the “cyberpunk” side of the industrial/ebm scene