(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Recording review - The Glitch Mob, Love Death Immoratlity (2014)

Insistent rhythm, flow, and physicality

It all begins with an organic splash of guitar, wrapped in a light haze of feedback. Anticipation continues to build as the Glitch Mob launches into “Mind of a Beast”. A busy keyboard figure restlessly loops within cage bars made of simple, solid chords. The percussion comes in, tapping into a well of nervous energy. A dark grind of bass and start-stop beats propel the song forward, but it flags all too soon. Barely started, the track fades down and dissipates. Of course, this is merely setting the stage for a stunning resurrection. After a second of silence, the tune returns in full force. Wheeling electronic acid trails weave through a marching Goliath beat that splinters into glitchy reflections before falling back into sync. The motif is not particularly intricate, but the band imbues it with a monomaniacal focus and then puts it to the test. Ratcheting electronics shatter against the implacable wall of its confident intent. This is the Glitch Mob at their best: like a cinematic score or videogame theme, the music tells a story filled with action.

Their debut release, 2010’s Drink the Sea, excelled at combining this kind of narrative sense with phenomenal electronic chaos. “Mind of the Beast” provides an auspicious start for the band’s second full-length album and shows that they are still capable of grand gestures. It turns out, though, that Love Death Immortality is not trying to cover the same ground as Drink the Sea. Instead of exotic sonic locales and rich tidal arrangements, the Glitch Mob seems more interested in exploring the rhythmic drive of EDM. The net result is a very listenable album, but it’s not as groundbreaking as their earlier work.

Songs like “Skullclub” and “Fly By Night Only” set the standard. They settle into a tight danceable beat and then toss out a ton of hooks. Fortunately, though, the band still plays with the form enough to keep things interesting. “Skullclub” starts mellow with a short piano riff and ramps up the energy while layering in keyboards. A heavily processed vocal kicks in, “We are the wild ones,” and then the race is on. The zipper bass, sharp drum machine punches and stutter-cut vocal samples come together like a club-friendly remix. Catchy as hell, these tunes are geared for getting the crowd dancing when the Glitch Mob goes on tour.

Even if insistent rhythm is at the heart of the album, Love Death Immortality recognizes the need for dynamic shifts and delivers some very nice change ups. “Becoming Harmonious” luxuriously slides into a dreamy, hypnotic zone. Guest singer Metal Mother (Taara Tati) wordlessly vamps for a bit and then drops the lyrics with stark simplicity, “Becoming harmonious/ Sensory confluence/ See through me/ My only wish/ To animate experience.” The slow-burn sizzle is deeply pop, but the languorous tempo is a wonderful contrast to the surrounding tracks. The closing song, “Beauty of the Unhidden Heart”, has a similar pop character. This time the femme vocals are provided by the Oakland duo, Sister Crayon. The soothing electro-pop flow favors soft washes of strings and water drop ripples of harp, but it also accommodates an edgier synth solo and tight break beats.

Some fans may be disappointed that the Glitch Mob isn’t pushing Drink the Sea’s creative vision or scaling similar artistic peaks and it’s a fair criticism. But if their debut was intended to impress with flashy extremes, Love Death Immortality is more about flow and physicality. It may not make as many waves, but it delivers plenty of satisfying moments.

(This review first appeared on Spectrum Culture)

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