Those who would wish to view time as something clean and well defined are going to find their lives a lot harder the more we push into the 21st century. It seems our ability to reproduce and re-approach the past is only exceeded by our appetite to do so. In the process, we make not only the present weirder, filled with a pastiche of influences and movements, but also the past as we rediscover nuance in the place where once clear narrative ruled. The ongoing retro movement in music (now much bigger than “just” retrowave) is a good example. It seems just such a bringing of the past into the present but it is more than that; it also re-frames our understanding of the past and what it contained, creating something new that is neither here or there.
Empathy Test, a synthpop/darkwave duo out of London that have been active since 2013, are a great example of this. They’ve just released (as in, ten days ago) two albums, titled Losing Touch and Self From Harm, that are an exemplary study in taking things from the past and the present to create something new. On one hand, their music is very much steeped in the roots of darkwave, roots which stretch back into the 80’s. The hurt and somewhat distant drawl on the vocals, the tones and the layering of the synths, the punchy electronic drums, are all children of the type of pop the dominated the charts from the middle of the 80’s and onward. But in their penchant for remixes and in the overall structure of the album, which introduces beats much more contemporary than what you might have heard “back in the day”, Empathy Test are very much of the present.
Contrasting two tracks is the best way to go about putting your finger on this “antiquated modernity”, which is why I’ve linked to two of them at the bottom of the post. The first, “Last Night on Earth” from the first album, Losing Touch, is very much what you’re expecting. The rich synth tones, the dreamy vocals, everything is darkwave as it should. But listen to the beat on the latter track, “Firelight” from Safe From Harm and to the vocal effects used in its background. This are much more contemporary and add a little bit of kick to the whole arrangement. This is a good example of why these two releases are so interesting; their melding of the past with the present create something which is much more than retro.
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