Skar de Line is the solo music project of singer-songwriter, producer and composer Oskar Abrahamsson, a talented, handsome, thoughtful and creative artist born and raised in Sweden and now based in London, England. Fascinated by the concept of boundaries and the human obsession for self-understanding, he fuses his love for cinematic soundtracks by such composers as Hans Zimmer, Junkie XL and Ramin Djawadi with hip-hop, rock and electronic metal to create dark, unconventional music that takes the listener on a sonic adventure while giving us a lot to think about. He writes, performs, records and produces all his own music, as well as writing, directing and editing all his music videos.
In October 2019, Skar de Line released his debut single “In Charge”, a fascinating orchestral electronic song about the human need to understand and control our surroundings, followed a year later by “Satisfied”, which explored the concept of satisfaction, posing the question “do we get satisfaction from being right, or merely by the act of searching for what we think we want?” The intensely dramatic song ended up spending 10 weeks on my Weekly Top 30 from January through March of 2021. (I reviewed both singles, and you can check them out by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post.)
Now he’s back with another single “Reset“, a dark and cinematic song that sees him continuing to explore new musical sounds by pushing beyond his comfort zone. He explains that the song “is built on my need to be better. A wish to constantly evolve, but also a fear that nothing ever will be enough. This is a journey out of this mental prison, in order to try to find something that I believe in, something I can hold on to forever.” He further elaborated on his Instagram page “Does every circle, even the ones we’ve created ourselves, hold us back? No matter how positive they are meant to be? As I looked around the room, I knew myself well enough to know that in my search to be better, this moment was just a phase, and would not mean anything in the next moment once I’ve grown beyond it. But I didn’t know if I really could accept that and let that happen, or if I, in this moment, could be more than that… Just take what I needed from myself.“
“Reset” opens on an eerie note, with sounds of Skar de Line’s echoed breathy gasps, which are soon accompanied by a distant rumbling bass and gently ticking drums as he sings in a rather ominous voice “Every time I open my eyes I kill an old version of mine. But I’m not a murderer, no, I’m a maker./ Every time I close my eyes, I am already set to reset.” From there, the music gradually builds as the breathy gasps continue, with the addition of dark orchestral synths and sharp percussion, creating a strong aura of tension along the way. His vocals turn more menacing as the tension continues to build, finally exploding into a bombastic cinematic crescendo, highlighted by a hauntingly beautiful angelic chorus that he states serves to “lift us out of the darkness“.
The brilliant video, filmed mostly in black and white and sepia tones, pays homage to the neo-noir black-and-white art style, and reflects the claustrophobic sentiments expressed in the lyrics. Skar de Line is dressed in black amidst a dark background, representing him feeling deeply trapped in the dark mental prison from which he wants to break free. His mind’s eye envisions a setting sun in a world of color, symbolizing a sense of freedom that still eludes him, and pushing him to fulfill his wish to climb out of this cycle that holds him back.
MACHINEKIT is a techno-punk band based in Los Angeles. Originally founded as Dharma in 2012 by John Rojas, Dave Cayetano and William Buege, as their sound evolved they made the decision in 2016 to change their name to MACHINEKIT, and the following year released their self-produced debut album Dysappearencer. They followed with two EPs and several singles, and in 2021, drummer Ryan Janke and multi-instrumentalist Ivan Garcia were added to their line up. All veterans of previous bands, the five musicians quickly bonded to become an even stronger musical force, combining their years of collective expertise and array of influences to create what they quite appropriately describe as “an agglomeration of chaos”. Now they’ve released their second album I AM JACK’S LONELY HEARTCLUB BAND, and it’s dark, aggressive and brutal, yet also strangely beautiful and sexy.
In early February, Rojas reached out to me about reviewing the album, and though it’s not the type of music I’m normally drawn to, I liked the songs and agreed to review it, even though I wasn’t quite sure how to write about this music. Soon after, I was hit with another bout of burnout, this time so serious that I decided to stop writing reviews altogether, though I would still honor the commitments I’d already made. To further complicate things, Rojas himself is a terrific writer who does reviews for the website Tourworthy, and after reading a few of his, I felt even more intimidated. But he was gracious and encouraging, and also generous in providing me with his thoughts and inspiration for writing the album, along with the lyrics, and I will do my best to give this album the credit it deserves.
Before I get into discussing the songs, I’ll share some of Rojas’ eloquent words to provide context for I AM JACK’S LONELY HEART CLUB BAND. “I started writing the album back in March of 2020. We had just gone into lockdown and I had nothing to do, so I just wrote music. Track 1, “In March of Nothing”, was actually written first and its title paves the way for what would be the concept of the entire album: loneliness. The title is both literal and figurative because 1) I literally had nothing to do in March, and 2) life felt so overwhelming that it confused my beliefs.
During most of 2020 and 2021, I was dealing with a lot of personal issues that gave me a sense of emptiness and boredom. Eventually, I went sober, and for some reason, that exacerbated my loneliness, so I just got into making the album and it just so happened that I had something to say. With all the weirdness happening in politics and society, I felt more isolated, but I wanted to merge that confusing feeling with my personal life. I decided to be cryptic and discuss my childhood in La Puente, my drug use, my current relationships with people, and my interactions with my community and the public. I was also tired of feeling fear and resentment over the toxic behavior that was and still continues to come from the world, so I wanted to talk shit when I felt compelled. By the end of the creative process, I realized each facet was contributing to my loneliness in ways that I still don’t fully understand, but when it came to writing the words, I tried my best to be viscerally honest with myself.
I grew up going to punk shows and raves, and wanted to merge my love for both sounds, which inherently allowed me to push my musical boundaries while I was being inspired by nostalgia. It was definitely a weird formula, but it worked. Also, I had just opened my recording studio, MachineHouse Audio, so I had the privilege to experiment in all capacities with the sound, which I believe helped me get where I wanted to go. With starting the studio and dealing with lockdown, the economy and the world were flipped on their ass in all dimensions, and having trouble in my personal life, the message came back in full circle. The only thing that really stood out to me was that weird ambivalent type of loneliness that wasn’t negative nor positive. It was just filled with anxiety and equanimity, and I just happen to document where I was at the time.”
As previously noted, the opening track “In March of Nothing” describes Rojas’ feelings of ennui and loneliness, as well as setting the overall tone for the album. The song starts off with ominous pulsating synths, portending rough times ahead. The music is gradually joined by a strong synth-bass beat as Rojas sings in a seductive, yet menacing voice “I am Jack’s lonely heart club band. Info news feeds me shit on high demand. The common clutch for the plastic adults. Programmed into the culture of cults. Hit me where it hurts. Enough to feel the burn.” As the song progresses, the music and vocals grow harsher and more intense, finally erupting into a bone-crushing maelstrom of dystopian madness as Rojas screams “Theywant my fun! They can have my fun! But the party is over!”
And speaking of dystopian madness, “LoveFuck” is a two-minute, 56-second-long psychedelic trip into hell. Machinekit unleash their sonic weaponry with a furious barrage of raging guitars, tortured industrial synths, crushing bass and explosive percussion. Rojas channels his inner beast as he savagely rails of his disillusionment over romantic love: “Young adults have all the fun. Pop-stars with fake luck. Click-bait when you’re done. Is it better than a morning fuck? Oh, What I wear fits. Oh, What I fear hits. Fear of missing out throughout those years. I don’t know where the feeling lives!” His vocals are so intensely feral, he’s left panting by song’s end, while I’m covered with goosebumps!
“Distressor” sees Rojas questioning our belief systems and why we follow leaders who don’t seem to know what they’re doing either: “Who’s your modern angel of death? Aren’t you fuckin’ bored to death with picking someone to reform your thoughts? Public figures conduct chess fights. Do you really know wrong from right? I want a sign in full-form.” And on “Divebomb“, he ponders the soul-crushing impacts of the covid lockdowns: “Are you bored of staying in? Is your air getting thin inside your head, your home? Your head is a dead home.” In listening to the song, as well as the entire album, I was struck by its strong Nine Inch Nails vibe, and in fact, Rojas told me he’s a huge NIN fan. He really seems to channel Trent Reznor on this track, as his vocals go from seductive breathy whispers to brutal screams.
One of my favorite tracks is “Purge“, with its frantic, hard-driving techno/dance groove and glitchy industrial synths creating an intense, otherworldly soundscape. In a similar vein, “Glue” features loads of spacey distortion, glitches and blips layered over a hypnotic dance beat, punctuated with jagged, gnarly guitar riffs. Everything erupts into a bone-crushing crescendo in the choruses as Rojas wails “Your bloody thoughts have bloody clots. I can sense your dirty thoughts. Our bloody clogs have bloody spots. I can feel them when I’m not.” On the moody and psychedelic “Anti Anti“, Rojas seems to question his faith, acknowledging the sobering thought that whatever he or any of us believe, we’re all going to end up the same at the end: “And I’ll make my own damn bed at the very end. Cause the dirt is my home. I’m all alone, and I will belong to the worms.” I really like the haunting piano and trippy synths on this song.
One of the standouts is “Whore On The Floor“, a very dark song about the inner conflict between using our guile and physical beauty to get what we want, but also willingly submitting ourselves to those who take advantage of us. Rojas elaborates: “The song and the video for “Whore on The Floor” are intentionally explicit. As the first lyrics says, “Am I a whore on the floor? When I want to,” I have a conversation with myself of how I feel like a whore in many forms. The video portrays me being submissive to a beautiful woman, so I use my sexuality or sexuality in general to illustrate that concept. That song is very literal but can be associated with many things, ie: sex, love, life, money, power, friendship, etc. This again is tied to how the act of being submissive makes me feel like shit and lonely.” The ominous glitchy industrial synths, combined with Rojas’ menacing vocals – which culminate with his screams of “And what you want from me, won’t come for free!” – creates a dangerously sexy vibe.
The instrumental track “__X__” features a repeat of the glitchy synths heard in “Whore On The Floor”, accompanied by hauntingly beautiful sounds that serve as lead-in to the gorgeous closing track “Stressor“. Nearly six minutes long, the song is a magnificent tour de force, with a glorious kaleidoscope of shimmery guitars, spooky industrial synths, grinding bass and thunderous percussion, all of which blend in perfect alchemy to create a darkly cinematic wall of sound that’s at turns both breathtaking and terrifying. Rojas defiantly calls out those who threaten our individuality and identities with their judgemental, soul-killing influencer bullshit: “And then these gatekeepers intervene. They kill our dream with their social scenes. And I stare off in disbelief. So called decent motherfuckers just act like thieves./ And press the stress into my voice. I hear my name inside the noise. Outgrow each god and their brands. I am still Jack’s lonely heart club band.“
Like many albums I’ve reviewed, it took a couple of listens for me to fully appreciate I AM JACK’S LONELY HEART CLUB BAND. With each successive listen, I heard more nuances in the myriad sounds and textures of its instrumentation, as well as the complex rhythms and melodies that give the songs such incredible impact and depth. Besides, who doesn’t need some brutally intense music to work out those aggressions now and then! Rojas and company have much to be proud of here, as they’ve created an exceptional, beautifully-crafted record. If you’re a fan of bands like Nine Inch Nails or Daughters, you will enjoy this album.
KÅRP is a rather enigmatic band based in Gothenburg, Sweden who make fascinating electronic music they describe as “death disco”. Fronted by breathy-voiced singer Anna-Maria Lundberg, their dark, ethereal sound has been compared with fellow Swedish acts The Knife, Kite and Lykke Li. Their love for the paranormal, outer space and the apocalyptic state of current affairs are recurring themes in both their music and lyrics. They released their debut single “Therapist^2” in 2017, followed by several more singles that culminated in the release of their beautiful self-titled debut album KÅRP in 2019. They dropped the single “Left Handed” in 2020, then in December 2021, they released “It Looks Bad”, the first single from their planned triptych of EPs to be released throughout 2022. The first of the three EPs KRIS, released on January 27, is the subject of today’s review.
The triptych series are intended to represent the three stages of the apocalypse: Chaos, Silence and the New World Order. KRIS explores the downfall of society, with all it’s attendant chaos and disorientation, and thus sounds the darkest of the three. KÅRP elaborates: “The world is burning. The police are shooting innocent people to death. Natural disasters and wars are forcing families to flee for their lives. The barbed wire gets sharpened by the wealthy nations’ borders and a pandemic is closing our societies down in a way that’s never been seen before. We started working on this trilogy after the release of our debut album in 2019. At that time you could sense the downfall like a darkness at the end of the tunnel. We soon realized that the apocalypse was already here. That’s why the first leg of this triptych of EP’s is pretty dark sounding. The next one will be slightly more mellow. And on the last one, we’re allowing ourselves a few major chords and some hope.“
The EP opens with the enchanting title track “Kris“, relatively brief piece that seems to serve as an introduction to this first installment of the triptych. KÅRP layers skittering eerie synths over a undulating synth bass groove to create a lovely but unsettling backdrop for Anna-Maria’s bewitching ethereal vocals. As its title suggests, things turn decidedly darker on the next track “It Looks Bad“. The harsh industrial synths are both spooky and beautiful, hovering over a powerful beat and heavy, pulsating rhythm, nicely conveying a sense of global upheaval. Anna-Maria laments to her child of the impending chaos and uncertainty that’s about to turn their world upside down: “Oh sweetheart, what to do with your pictures from school. The butterfly collection and your wild diaries, the family tree.Bring out the matches ‘cuz nobody will be here. No more grounds to stand on, nothing to grow here.”
I can’t quite make out the meaning of “Humdrum“, but it’s a sonically gorgeous track, with a colorful soundscape of intricate spacey synths, galloping beats and Anna-Maria’s fervent ethereal vocals. And on the marvelous “Honey Play“, KÅRP reaches deep into their sonic arsenal to produce a haunting, cinematic song befitting a soundtrack for an epic sci-fi or apocalyptic film. The sweeping industrial synths, powerful driving rhythms, and Anna-Maria’s soaring vocal harmonies are spectacular. The lyrics speak of standing up to dark forces trying to divide us: “I’ve already decided you can’t force me. You don’t understand all that matters. I’ve already decided you can’t force me. Youwant us to play under your division.”
I’m a big fan of electronic music, and KÅRP makes some of the most dramatically beautiful that I’ve heard in a while. KRIS is a stunning work, and I’m really looking forward to hearing the next two installments of their tryptich.
I’ve been revisiting a lot of artists and bands lately that I’ve previously featured on this blog, as so many are putting out new music in recent weeks. One of them is Chicago-based singer-songwriter and composer brett.grant.5 (aka Brett Grant), who just dropped his latest single “Insomnia“. Music has been a long-time passion for Brett, who’s been active in the Chicago music scene for many years, both as a solo artist and as a member of several bands. (One of them is a million rich daughters, who’s haunting single “Left Behind” has been enjoying an extended run on my Weekly Top 30 for the past few months.) Since 2016, he’s released two EPs and a number of singles, several of which I’ve reviewed. You can read some of those reviews by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post. He found time to earn a B.A. Degree in Music from Columbia College Chicago in 2019, and also has his own private practice teaching music to budding artists.
Drawing from a broad and eclectic range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to electronic and experimental progressive rock to industrial and hip hop, Brett’s sound is bold, unorthodox and always deeply compelling. On “Insomnia”, he seems to artfully blend most of those elements into one song, making for a fascinating and continually-evolving track. The song starts off with a repetitive melancholic piano riff played in a kind of trip hop cadence, then he adds skittering percussive sounds as he begins to sing in his distinctive and vulnerable vocal style. Soon, the music swells into a beautiful soundscape of soaring cinematic synths and dramatic piano keys, before returning to the urgent trip hop melody, where he adds darker industrial synths, heavier drum fills and his own backing vocal harmonies. This back and forth continues through the second chorus, then just past the 3-minute mark, the song transitions to a breathtaking symphonic-like movement, highlighted by sparkling piano keys and gorgeous orchestral synths, backed with a haunting chorale-like harmony.
His blunt, poetic lyrics are often deeply personal or downright scathing, exploring some of the darker sides of society, relationships and mental health. “Insomnia” addresses ongoing struggles with inner demons that negatively affect one’s life, relationships, and overall well-being, making it impossible to find peace of mind: “My heart’s racing, my head’s a mess.They try to tell me read the bible. It’s not about you, I must confess./ Memories lost in sleepless nights. I’d give anything for rest.” In the song’s final movement, Brett repeatedly laments “All the love in the world can’t save me from myself. All the love in the world can’t save us from ourselves.”
“Insomnia” is Brett’s most ambitious, melodically complex and sonically beautiful release yet, and a master class in songwriting, composition and execution. The fact that he handled all aspects of the song’s recording and production by himself is really impressive. It makes me happy to see him continue to grow both artistically and professionally, and I look forward to what he has in store.
As with all his releases, the trippy artwork for “Insomnia” was created by Brett’s beautiful wife Ashlee, who’s an amazing visual artist.
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.
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 anddisqui.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
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!
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.