Cryonica Tanz V.3 (Cryonica)
~review by Uncle Nemesis
This is the third in an ever-lengthening series of compilation CDs released by the UK-based Cryonica label, with the intention of focusing attention on some of the up-and-coming electronic bands around today. It’s a big value package: 30 tracks spread over two CDs, but as with all various artists collections, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. You get some good stuff, some fair-to-middling stuff, and a few tracks which frankly seem to be there simply to make up the numbers. What’s slightly more to the point is that the music here tends to fall into a handful of distinct sub-genres. There’s light, melodic, synthpop, typically with half-chanted, melancholic vocals; some fast, assertive, techno-influenced tracks, clearly designed to trigger an instant floor-invasion in the clubs; and then there’s the distorted-shouting-over-bangin’-beats stuff. A few more adventurous contenders take their music into more individualistic areas, but overall I have to say that hardly any of the artists represented here seem willing to jump out of their chosen genre-box, and there’s a worryingly high incidence of tracks which simply sound like they’ve been put together by assembling prefabricated components. Here’s a bit of Covenant, here’s a bit of Suicide Commando, here’s a bit of something which sounds a bit like everything else.
This phenomenon - when a musical genre starts to feed on itself, when genuinely new ideas stop cropping up and everyone simply starts doing what everyone else is doing - is not a new thing, of course. It happened to the indie scene, post-Oasis, when every indie band on the planet suddenly started doing Beatles-influenced retro-rock. It happened to goth scene about ten years ago, during that distinctly underwhelming period when every other goth band simply rehashed the Sisters Of Mercy sound, if they weren’t trying the same trick with the Nephilim style. It’s been my contention for a while now that the EBM/synthpop/whatever scene has reached that same chasing-its-own-tail stage, and this compilation seems to confirm my view. To illustrate all this, consider this statistic: 12 out of the 30 tracks on this album employ some sort of distortion effect on the vocal. That’s uncomfortably close to 50%, and, perhaps, demonstrates how far down the road of doing-the-same-as-everyone-else we’ve gone in the electronic genre. I’m sure that if a label released a 30-track compilation of goth bands upon which almost half the vocalists were doing that hackneyed Andrew Eldritch-soundalike thing, this would be instantly held up as evidence of the goth scene’s stagnation, its redundancy and creative stasis - and that would be a very fair criticism. Well, apply that critical criterion to the electro scene, as represented on this album - and draw your own conclusions!
But let’s jump in to the music, and pick out a few highlights and lowlights. Track One, Disc One sets out the stall pretty effectively. ‘Paranoid Destruction’ by Agonoize opens up with a briefly intriguing clatter of intro-beats, and then settles down to a fairly regular-issue hard-EBM stomper, punctuated by one of those ‘uplifting’ synth motifs, and - yep, you guessed it - an ‘Aaarwwghh!’ vocal. Well, so far, so standard. A little further in, Matrix give us ‘Sensless Game’, and it’s a very Mesh-like pop tune, with a lyric about unrequited love - ‘You’ll never know I exist’ - and this in itself represents a common generic theme. All the synthpoppy tracks here seem to have melancholy, downbeat, doom-and-gloom-on-a-stick lyrics, usually about lost love, or sometimes just general bleakness. Another example crops up a few tracks further down the stack, in ‘Nailed’ by Diskonnekted. Their track is a slammin’ slice of dancefloor madness, complete with little Space Invaders ‘zap’ effects, but the lyrics are the usual depression-by-numbers stuff. A sample line:
‘Misery, it seems, is my only friend’. This is really quite bizarre. If a goth band wrote a lyric like that, they’d be laughed at, and roundly condemned for playing up to the stereotype. So how come all the synthpoppers can get away with such blatant gloomcookie stuff?
It’s a bit of a surprise to encounter Knifeladder in this company, since they’re so much of an organic, physical, band. In the normal scheme of things, they’re hardly the stuff of EBM playlists. I suspect they make it under the wire on this occasion because their track, ‘Dervish’, is here in remixed form. It’s been doofed-up into a thumping great hardcore motherfucker of a tune - effective enough, but nothing that Ultraviolence weren’t doing several years ago. Knifeladder, of course, share a member with Inertia these days, and since Inertia are the proprietors of the Cryonica label it’s logical to find their own acts represented in full effect. Disc One rounds off with two of ‘em. Fiction 8 give us ‘Nothing More’, a slice of busy synthpop with yet more of those agonised, melodramatic vocals: “Let me die or let me live/There’s nothing more that I can give’. The vocalist sounds in such distress that I’m seized with a sudden urge to sit the poor chap down and give him chocolate. Mono Chrome are a welcome diversion in that their track, ‘Rivited’, features a very fine vocal performance from Victoria Lloyd, a great relief after all the synthpop-chanters and distortion-demons I’ve had to suffer so far.
And then on to Disc Two. There are no real surprises here - this second part of the compilation covers the same generic territories as the first; the bands all do more or less what you’d expect them to do. But Seize surprise me somewhat - their ‘Unbreakable’ is much more hard-hitting and assertive that I was expecting. The palette of sounds they use is fairly standard, but its good to hear this band, not previously noted for their tendency to play it hard and loud, giving it a bit of welly.
Namnambulu contribute ‘Memories’, and, alas, it’s not a version of Public Image’s vintage stormer. It’s a regular doof-doofer, complete with squeaky synths and that ‘sonar’ effect, which is yet another over-used sound in the electronic area these days. I’ll give Namnamblu their due: they’re good at what they do, but that’s not really saying much, is it? Where’s the stuff that’s going to stop me in my tracks?
Ever hopeful, I dive in to Pangea’s ‘Permafrost’, hoping for one moment that it’s a cover of Magazine’s menacing slow-burner. It’s not. In fact, it’s a rather bland instrumental, like the theme to a TV sports show. It drives along without really going anywhere, and ultimately it bores me. Still, I’m sure it’ll go very well with some library footage of windsurfers, or something.
Culture Kultur’s ‘Wonder’ opens with a nice piano motif, and a trancey vibe overall. It’s all a bit too Covenant for comfort in the end, though, and yep, the track contains yet another doomy lyric: ‘Someone in the corner is crying silently.’ Oh, that must be me, then, weeping for the death of creativity in electronic music. Ariya’s ‘Disease’ is a cut above the competition, featuring as it does the distinctive, relaxed vocal of Jennifer Parkin, which transcends the rather over-generic backing. A fine vocalist, a good song, but the decision to simply press the same old synthpop buttons instead of creating a bespoke style rather lets things down. Spretsnaz seem to be trying to re-write Front 242’s classic ‘Join In The Chant’ on their ‘To The Core’, so we shall move quickly on. Sprinting to the finish now, I’m grabbed by the third-to-last band on this disc. They’re called First Black Pope, easily the best band name I’ve heard for a while (since Future Sound Of Elvis, in fact), but, alas, they seem to have expended all their wit and imagination on their name, because their tune is a straight-up doofer with a tiresome ‘Eeerrrwwghh!’ noise for a vocal. Competently done, but no risks taken.
And that, as it happens, is a good summing-up of this album. Every band here is technically good; the production and presentation of the music is faultless. But genuine, creative, ideas seem to be in very short supply. I’ve predicted before that EBM will eat itself, that synthpop will end up chasing its own tail, and to be brutal about it this album seems to offer more evidence that it’s all starting to happen. Sure, there are a few little sparks here, but a few little sparks just aren’t enough. I want a raging inferno of creativity, I want to be tripped up and astonished by new ideas and quirky individuality, I want to be taken somewhere *new*. This album, unfortunately, just doesn’t buy the ticket.
Pressure Control: Triggerfinger (Extended
The Cryonica label website: http://www.cryonica.com
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to