1i2c – Album Review: “Lockdown Made Me Do It!”

1i2c

Electronic music seems to be a genre that’s alive and flourishing, as there are lots of artists around the world still making it in all its myriad forms. I’ve featured a fair number of them on this blog, and one of the more interesting – and eccentric – is British composer and producer 1i2c (one eye to see). Based in Stevenage, a mid-size town north of London, 1i2c is the music project of John Whitaker.

Heavily influenced by the music of some of his favorite artists like Jean-Michel Jarre, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Depeche Mode, The Prodigy and Royksopp, he’s an imaginative and innovative composer whose music spans across a wide range of styles within the electronica genre. He’s also quite prolific, having produced a tremendous output of music over the past five years, beginning with the release in January 2016 of his debut album The Great Distraction. Since then, he’s released an astonishing 11 albums, as well as numerous singles and EPs. I reviewed his December 2018 album Winter, (which you can read here), and am now pleased to feature his latest release Lockdown Made Me Do It!, which dropped July 27th. It’s a concept album obviously inspired by the COVID-19 lockdown that’s upended just about everyone’s life over the past five months.

All of his releases have essentially been concept albums based on an overriding theme, with the sounds and titles of each track reflecting an element of the album title. For example, Power Struggle contains industrial techno songs with titles like “Electron”, “Incandescent” and “High Tension”, Horror Show features songs with more of a psychedelic goth and darkwave vibe, titled “Monster”, “Lunatic Waltz” and “Doorway to Hell”, and Winter includes appropriately-named tracks like “Cold Season”, “Chill” and “Deep Freeze”. So too with the tracks on Lockdown Made Me Do It!, with titles like “Confusion”, “Virus” and “Keep Your Distance”. 1i2c states that he wants his album themes to paint visual pictures in our minds, further adding “My journey will continue until I run out of ideas.”

The album opens with “Spirit“, a rather enchanting yet mysterious composition with a galloping EDM beat overlain by lush, spacey synths that call to mind some of the late 70s music of European composers Giorgio Moroder and Cerrone. The song is really pretty in the beginning, but turns darker as the synths take on a harsher, more industrial tone, as if to indicate that something is amiss. The next track “Confusion” confirms that something is indeed amiss, as the melody becomes more urgent, with gnarly industrial synths and an almost chaotic percussive beat that give the song an ominous vibe. Still, there are bits of beauty to be found in the delicate piano keys as well as the almost cheerful sounding xylophone notes at the end.

Trauma” is an interesting track, as it starts off scary and harsh, but soon settles into a mesmerizing dance beat, accompanied by a mix of sharp industrial sounds combined with some lovely synths that make for a darkly beautiful song. As our journey through the extended lockdown continues, we find ourselves immersed in “A Dark Place“. To a repetitive whiplash beat and harsh psychedelic synths, a woman’s haunting voice repeatedly asks “Sometimes I wonder why?“, a question I suppose we’d all like some answers to.

Reality” sets in with a hypnotic EDM beat overlain by pulsating industrial synths that convey a continual state of ennui brought on by endless days of lockdown. Is this the new reality? By now, we’re left feeling like were “Sleepwalking” through life, unable to participate in the many activities involving social interaction that we once took for granted. Musically, the track has more of a rock feel, thanks to electric guitars and more aggressive percussion. The intense, buzzing synths are harsher as well, giving off a decidedly menacing vibe.

1i2c has produced a brilliant video for the song that’s at once funny and disturbing. The video starts off with scenes of bright blue sky with fluffy clouds, then transitions to black and white as he’s shown sitting in the middle of a country road, blindfolded with his hands tied and wearing a bad wig and a shirt on backwards like an improvised straightjacket. He then gets up and stumbles down the road in a sort of macabre dance, as if he’s losing his mind. Didn’t I say earlier that he’s eccentric? He eventually makes his way back to his car, gets in, and drives off. As he drives through the village in the rain, the color returns at the end, as if to possibly signify that all is not hopeless and brighter days lie ahead.

And speaking of disturbing and eccentric, 1i2c delivers both in a big way on “Virus“, coughing and hacking his way through the track, sirens wailing in the background. As to be expected, the instrumentals are deliciously dark, harsh and menacing. To try and avoid catching the virus, one must do our best to “Keep Your Distance“, and the message is delivered by a volley of cacophonous industrial synths and dark, skittering percussive beats, accompanied by creepy sounds of buzzing flies.

The terrific video for this song was actually conceived by Nicolai Kornum. He pitched the concept to Whitaker, then shot some footage for Whitaker to compose the music around. The video stars Whitaker and M. W. Daniels, and was filmed, edited & directed by Kornum. Shot in black and white, it opens with a masked man played by Daniels standing on the sidewalk next to what appears to be a bus shelter, reading the newspaper. An ad for Chiquita bananas on the back of the shelter states “we are bananas”, a cheeky little nod to our current societal state. Whitaker walks up to the man from behind and coughs heavily, then turns and walks away. Incensed, the masked man then follows Whitaker through the streets of London, temporarily losing sight of him in a park. He soon sees him walking and resumes following him to a bridge across the Thames, where Whitaker has stopped to take in the view. The man taps him on the shoulder, and as Whitaker turns around, the man pushes him over the railing and into the river. It’s an extreme measure to rid himself of another potential virus carrier!

Those pesky buzzing flies are back in full force on the album closer and title track “Lockdown“. Once again, 1i2c uses razor-sharp industrial synths and sets them to a pulsating electronic beat to create a sense of foreboding and losing one’s mind. It’s the perfect ending to a brilliant album that beautifully captures the stress and emotional trauma inflicted on society by the COVID-19 lock down. He’s a talented and incredibly creative artist, and I strongly urge my readers to check out more of his works.

Connect with 1i2c on Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

BRETT.GRANT.5 – Single Review: “Burning Fire”

Brett Grant

One of the joys of having a music blog is being able to give independent and unsigned artists some free press and hopefully expose them and their music to a wider audience. An artist I’m particularly fond of is Chicago-based singer-songwriter and composer Brett Grant, who goes by the artistic moniker brett.grant.5. Drawing from a wide range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to video game music and experimental progressive rock, his sound is edgy, unorthodox and fascinating. And his brutally-honest and personal lyrics explore some of the darker sides of life, society, and mental health.

Brett’s been making music for many years, both as a solo artist and as a member of several bands. He plays guitars & synths and sings vocals for A Million Rich Daughters, and previously pounded drums in Sleep For Dinner and TOOFUNCHILD. In addition to his work with the aforementioned bands, as well as earning a B.A. Degree in Music last year, he’s released two solo EPs – digital dirge in 2016 and disqui.etude in 2019 (read my review here). Now he returns with “Burning Fire“, his first new single in a year.

The song is a repudiation of the religious dogma that keeps people enslaved on so many different levels – mentally, socially, culturally and physically. Brett explained that the song “is about rejecting concepts we’ve been force-fed, and trying to unveil the truth through all the lies. The ‘burning fire’ [refers to] the self-righteous light that the hyper-religious shine upon the world, casting dark shadows that create monsters.” As someone who was raised Catholic but am now Atheist, the lyrics strongly resonate with me. I’m always suspect when people invoke god and religion to legitimize their oppression of others, or to further their hateful racist, homophobic or exclusionary agendas.

Musically, Brett uses a complex and dramatic mix of harsh, psychedelic and spooky industrial synths, along with a hypnotic drumbeat to create a dark, ominous soundscape befitting the scathing lyrics. His vocals are equally menacing as he practically snarls his verses, yet there are moments of haunting beauty too, especially in the bridge where he plaintively implores “the world ends with you / the world ends with me / the world ends with us / at least we’ll all be free.”

Like many electronic songs with experimental and progressive rock elements , I found that “Burning Fire” gets better with each listen, as I discovered more nuances in both its melodic structure and the array of instruments and sounds used in the song. Brett will be donating all proceeds from purchases of the song to Black Lives Matter Chicago.

in underlying tunnels in my head
disqualifying thoughts all painted red
creatures undying I can’t regulate
identifying efforts to castrate

your burning fire’s been oscillating
the shadows discharged are starting to take hold
your burning fire is suffocating
nightmarish monsters eroding self-control

emulsifying actions and my thoughts
i’m patronizing the stations of the cross
the underlying message won’t come clean
but I’ve been spying actions so obscene
yeah I’ve been trying to fight this dissonance
by qualifying the sacrifice I’ve spent
the mystifying stories I’ve been told
unsatisfying, removing my blindfold

your burning fire’s been oscillating
the shadows discharged are starting to take hold
your burning fire is suffocating
nightmarish monsters eroding self-control

the world ends with you
the world ends with me
the world ends with us
at least we’ll all be free
the world ends with you
the world ends with me
the world ends with us
at least we’ll all be free
the world ends with you
the world ends with me

your burning fire’s been oscillating
the shadows discharged are starting to take hold
your burning fire is suffocating
nightmarish monsters eroding self-control

Follow Brett: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / Apple MusicGoogle Play

WARMER – Album Review: “Anthropocene”

anthropocene

I always enjoy learning about talented artists who’ve been making really great, innovative music for years that somehow slipped under my radar, then making up for lost time by listening to their back catalog of songs. One of the more interesting artists I’ve discovered recently is Warmer, the solo project of singer, songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist Jesse Gunn. Based in the bucolic Western Oregon city of Eugene, Warmer fuses elements of Alternative, Metal, Industrial, Electronic and Art Rock to create singularly unique music that pushes boundaries, stirs our emotions and gives us a lot to think about. He cites as some of his influences the likes of Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Sigur Ros, The Black Heart’s Procession, David Bowie, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Interpol, Spanking Dynamite, Faith No More, Beck, Diffuse, 16 volt, Depeche Mode, The Cure, “and a bunch of bad pop I don’t want to admit to.” Hey, we all have our guilty pleasures!

warmer (jesse gunn)

Since releasing his debut self-titled EP in 2005, Warmer has been quite prolific, dropping seven albums – some containing between 15 and 22 tracks! – as well as writing several soundtrack scores for films and video games. His latest effort is Anthropocene, a brilliant and scathing diatribe on the current fucked-up climate situation on several fronts – political, social and environmental. His songs are filled with powerful and biting lyrics, set to often dense and complex soundscapes.

Before getting to the music, I thought I’d provide a little geology lesson to explain the album’s title. Though not yet an officially recognized geologic time period, the term “Anthropocene” has been proposed by earth scientists to define the current period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment as a new epoch in the Geologic Time Scale. The word combines the root “anthropo”, meaning “human” with the root “-cene”, the standard suffix for “epoch” in geologic time. Debate has raged for years as to when this epoch began, with some placing it as early as 12,000 years ago with the rise of agriculture (which would generally coincide with the current Holocene epoch), the late 1700s with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, or even as recent as 1945, with the detonation of the first nuclear bomb (though most dismiss this later date). But what is agreed upon is that the Anthropocene identifies Earth’s most recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now being significantly altered by humans.

The album opens with “Anthropocene Theme“, a somber and haunting piano instrumental that sets the tone for what’s to come. Then Warmer launches into an epic take down of humankind and the abuse we heap upon our planet with “Our Mother“. Starting off with a simple piano riff, moody synths and harsh percussion gradually enter the mix, creating a strong sense of foreboding. Warmer’s raw vocals are filled with anger as he lists the ways we are hurting our mother earth: “The earth our mother, she’s really sick, and its no wonder she’s got a hit on us. We drain her blood right from out of the ground. We drop our bombs and we leave our shit around.” He then shifts to a falsetto as he sings about how so many people are more concerned with their own personal appearance and well-being than the earth they live on: “I want to live forever. I want a real good health plan. I wanna stay looking so young with botox and collagen.” His vocals are backed by his own whispers, adding a menacing feel to the dirge-like track.

The brilliant and provocative video opens with American currency floating down, then scenes of nature, both beautiful and brutal, are shown until the song is abruptly interrupted by jarring images and a dire announcement of a possible attack from space – a nuclear attack perhaps? This is followed by the sound of a man screaming, then footage of President Trump calling global warming a hoax. As the song resumes, we’re shown images of man’s destruction and pollution, followed by scenes of space and a volcanic eruption. Once the song ends, we see a static-covered scene of an American flag, with the camera closing onto an expanding hole within it, accompanied by an increasingly distorted and harsh refrain of the song’s somber melody.

On “Pretty Bait Click Machine” Warmer addresses our manipulation by social media to the point of obsession (I’m sadly guilty as charged), and being perfectly complacent about staying in our own information bubbles “It’s so safe on the inside of this echo chamber that I hide. Cuz I will never see a different point of view other than me. It’s engineered algorithmically feeding the pretty click bait machine./We are just meat machines eating the programming. Notify me with dopamine. I’ll keep on posting endlessly.” This track is more guitar-driven, with light industrial synths and a rather upbeat melody that belies the serious lyrics. And by this point, I’m already hooked on Warmer’s rich and varied vocal style, which at times reminds me of Rufus Wainwright and Matt Berninger (of The National and EL VY).

Gimmie” speaks to man’s bottomless greed and willingness to destroy anything and everything in order to get more material things: “We’re just a bunch of animals raping the world we love. Don’t kind yourself, we’re not cultured and civil. Killing for the gods above. Gimmie precious oil and nicotine. Killing in the name of greed./Whatcha gonna do with all that stuff? When is enough really ever enough?” “Sugar” is about the conflicting feelings of employing a hooker: needing the sexual pleasures they provide, yet condemning the life choices they’ve made. Warmer’s vocals are seductive as he croons: “Be my vacation in this sea side hotel room. A skin destination I’m gonna crawl all over you. Please be my sugar baby. I need you so bad honey. Evolution is dead. It’s all about the money. Oh my sugar baby this is no way to live.” The track features gritty industrial and psychedelic synths and a low-key surf guitar. On “Lip Service” he ruminates on life choices and paths taken, wondering about different outcomes: “In times like these we analyze. we pick apart our very lives. Oh what could i have become if my fears had not won.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Orange Maniac“, a bitter renunciation of the vile cretin currently occupying the American White House, whom I despise with every fiber of my being. The song is dark, with a beautiful but mournful piano riff and an alternating mix of glittery (beautiful) and harsh (ugly) synths. Warmer’s vocals also vary, going from plaintive when he sings “Orange maniac he’s ruling me” to sneering: “You had better fall in line. You had better know your place. My world has become Anthropocene because my tiny handed president is an illiterate.” On the bleak and discordant “adaywhennothinggoeswrong“, he sings of wishing for a problem-free day. The track has a bit of a Nine Inch Nails vibe.

Channeling both Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode, Warmer delivers gnarly guitars, gravelly bass and ominous industrial synths on the dark instrumental track “This is Your Warning“. “The Great Dying” opens with sounds of his labored breathing, then he forlornly laments of the coming end of humanity: “Life used to be much more simple. I knew of less tragedies and friends were real people. Oh honey I’m not a rich man. I won’t be able to save you in the end. When they come to your home for your genome, crispr’s gonna take a piece out of you. We will draw the line that defines who survives the Great dying.” The music alternates between a gloomy piano-driven melody and a barrage of thrashing industrial synths and fierce percussion. It’s a hard-hitting and monumental track.

The video combines both tracks, first showing only explosive flashes against a black backround for “This is Your Warning”, then psychedelically distorted scenes from old TV shows and commercials for “The Great Dying”. Credit for both this video and the one for “Our Mother” goes to Jon Curry.

Warmer gives us a much-needed interlude with the hauntingly beautiful piano instrumental “Waltz for Bonnie“, which showcases yet another aspect of his impressive musicianship. He closes out the album on a jolt back to cruel reality with “House of Slaughter“, a very depressing song about the horrors of working in a slaughterhouse that really speaks to the larger issue that animals must die to satisfy mankind’s appetite for meat. Musically, the track is simple, featuring only Warmer’s strummed acoustic guitar and mournful vocals that convey a sense of numbness and sad resignation as he sings: “Damn the clang of the bell. Jolts me back into hell, my dreams my only escape. I try to wash off the stink from my face into sink. It hangs in the air like a mist. Off to another day, deaf to cries of helpless. Their calls heard for miles around. Yes this is, a house of slaughter. Yes this is hell on earth. It sticks inside my clothes. It’s always in my nose, the evidence of my cruel day. And if it comes down to it you know that i’d do it. Just know that i’ll eat you first. Cuz you are the sweetest meat, the sweetest I’ve ever seen.

OK, now I’m feeling pretty numb myself, yet also blown away by the sheer power of this dark and brilliant album. Warmer holds nothing back as he stirs our senses with incredible soundscapes, while punching us in the gut with his brutally honest and compelling lyrics. Anthropocene is an important album that needs to be heard by as many ears as possible.

Connect with Warmer on Facebook / Twitter
Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes