We have a special edition of Wave // Breaker for you this time. It’s sort of sad that it’s a special edition because what makes it special is that I’ve found not one, not two, but three electronic albums to love this month. It’s sad because I’d like for this to be a more frequent occasion. I’m not sure it’s entirely the genre’s fault; it’s easy to jump to conclusions and grand narrative about “the death of synthwave” or, even more gross and crude, the “template nature of most electronic music”. But the truth is, I don’t have the same mechanisms in place to watch and stay attention to electronic music. I don’t have the same wide networks, and the same personal expertise, that allows me to discover albums like I do in other genres. However, this sort of brings us full circle since the main reason I don’t develop these networks is that I know that the (very broad) genre of electronic music is indeed facing some sort of slump.
But not this month because this month we have three brilliant albums to discuss! As such, instead of running an interview or a more in-depth look into a single album, I’ll be using this column to quickly review each of these three albums. Although, you know, “quickly” in Eden terms so I don’t know how short this will actually end up being. But you like that, right? Right? Well, in either case, this is what you’re going to get because that’s the only way I know how to write. OK, enough meta; let’s get to the music.
Kanga – You And I Will Never Die
I’m coming in late to this particular ship; Kanga has been a name on the lips of the segment of the metal community which loves synthwave for a while now. However, You And I Will Never Die, her latest release, has reached out and grabbed me like her previous albums failed to quite do. To dub it just with the dubious (get it) holy oil of the “synthwave” genre would be a mistake; there’s just as much from dark and cold wave on this album and that’s perhaps why I love it so much. I’ve been on a huge darkwave kick as of late; something inside of me just craves the haunting synths, disaffected vocals, and overall dark aesthetic of the genre. And You And I Will Never Die has those in droves, channeling that certain type of noir that makes the genre tick.
Just turn on to a track like “Brother” for example and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Kanga’s vocals are just the right shade of distant and ominous, floating beautifully above the industrial-tinged beats that make up the hulking, technological, faintly post-apocalyptic spine of the track and, indeed, of the album. On top of this are layered the synths and I do mean layered: there’s a lot that’s going on into making those tones work. Across the album there’s this dedication to the impact and texture of the synths that is absolutely necessary for darkwave to work but which seems to be missing from so many modern iterations on the style.
The overall effect of these combined elements is of darkness, of a blasted urban wasteland stretching off into the horizon. But, unlike its more purely synthwave brethren, there’s very little neon here. Instead, Kanga’s music dives into the dirt, the refuse, the bare, concrete bones of the world which her music generates and excavates from that its emotional impact. And impact it has; it’s been hard for me to put this album down since I’ve heard it. Go check it out and get lost in its folds of inky, velvety, abrasive darkness.
Conqueror’s Mourn- No More For the Battletrance
There’s another reason why this edition of Wave // Breaker is special: I’m writing about a dungeon synth album! Even though I’ve mentioned the genre once before on this column, and even interviewed my favorite dungeon synth artist, Fogweaver, I’m not a big fan of the sound. There’s something about it that channels a nostalgia that I don’t really relate to and, if we were to go back briefly to the “electronic music is all the same” cliche, I do find that the genre tends to be very repetitive. Which is why I was thrilled to discover Conqueror’s Mourn, a project that has a very unique take on the genre.
To be clear, much of the basic elements of dungeon synth are present here. The tones sound like they belong in an old-school, 8-bit game. The themes of the album, its cover art and title especially, evoke that classic, AD&D sort of vibe which the genre uses those tones to channel and address. But that’s where those comparisons end because Conqueror’s Mourn does something very different, and unique, with those building blocks. Just flip over to “For a time, bathing only in the waterfall”, the third track on the album. Listen to the chopped up vocal sample that haunts the track (and I use that word, “haunt”, very intentionally) and weaves in and out of the base rhythm of the track. Sure, that base rhythm is very dungeon synth but have you heard a sample like this used in the genre?
Throw in some more synth layers, ominous bass tones, and the fact that every track is this special, and you can understand why I’ve been loving this album in spite of my overall aversion to the genre. It just explores potentials and directions that I’ve yet to hear any dungeon synth album explore (although I have a few promising, and weird, albums on my to listen list), proving that there’s still more to do with the genre than just re-iterate on its endlessly looping templates.
SurgeryHead – Lucifer’s Technology (Devil Sounds Pt.III)
I won’t say that I left the best for last because all of the albums in this entry of Wave // Breaker are truly excellent. But I definitely kept the hardest for last. Where the above entries dallied with the abrasive, the dark, and the sampled, SurgeryHead dives head deep into the bubbling cesspool of a red and purple, nightmarish future. If you’ve been following my escapades in electronic music over the past few years, you might recall that SurgeryHead’s Lords of the Video Wasteland is one of my favorite darksynth/synthswave/whatever albums. It’s raw, gritty, and the breaks on it go super hard. Well, brace yourself for Lucifer’s Technology (Devil Sounds Pt.III), the third iteration of an ongoing horror/science fiction project that the project has been releasing over the last few years.
It’s really hard for me to describe how dark and abrasive this album is because it channels both of those adjectives in many different ways. From the jungle/drum and bass beats on “Lucifer’s Technology”, through the guitar led breakdown on the end of that same track, through the hip-gyration inducing beats of “Persistent Artificial Memory” which follows it, and all the way to the ocean-deep bass of “Black Glass Catacomb”, this album is all about the many shapes that move in the dark. The project has always been interested in horror but here, it has brought forth the cosmic aspects of that horror, channeling eldritch energies and sounds through dastardly and twisted beats, unshackled samples, and an overall vibe that just really, really hates being here.
I can’t really add any more words here that will get the fucked up experience of listening to this album across so instead I will paint you a picture. I want to play this album incredibly loudly in a smoke-drenched club that’s really just a basement with a bar stuck in it. I want the room to be so stifling hot and crowded that people are shaking on the dance floor just to let the energies boiling in their stomach loose. I want to have the bass all the way to the top, I want to feel the walls shudder. I want to play this so fucking loud and absolutely lose myself inside of it. I’m going to do that right now. Join me?