Friday, February 28, 2014

Various - Mechanophobia (Original TC Review)

Trishula Records: 2006

(2014 Update:
This was my proper introduction to the then-current sound of dark psy, of which is plainly obvious as I'm often referring to it by an earlier sub-genre term that was common at the turn of the century. I honestly had no idea that the whole dark psy sub-scene had evolved into a ton of disparate night-themed sub-sub categories by the mid-'00s, but I sure did soon enough. At least there are still 'tekk' attributes on here, given the theme of the compilation. Hell, it's why I blindly picked it up to begin with. The CD's still fine for dark psy, but not one I pull out often. At least it introduced me to the awesome that is Olien though.

Oh, that opening paragraph? You'll have to wait until I reach the 'S's to find out what that's all about, if you don't already.)



IN BRIEF: Fear the machines.

Reviewing Armin van Buuren’s latest opus to the decay of popular trance left me a broken man. It took me into a reservoir of pent-up aggression which was finally unleashed, an ugly though necessary blemish on my otherwise tolerant track record. I needed time to let that scab heal, so I decided to indulge a little in that polar opposite of epic trance: psytekk.

For the uninitiated, psytekk is an offshoot of the psy trance scene. Fusing the cold mechanical aesthetics of techno and the warped soundscapes of psy, this style of music isn’t for the faint of heart. In the realm of psytekk, the machines are in total control, trampling whatever hope humanity may have without taxing a single circuit. Other times though, it just comes across as glitchy, minimal, sound-effects wankery. I suppose it depends on how much you buy into the themes the music attempts to create.

When compiling this release, Trishula Records decided not to pussyfoot the issue, and gathered a collection of the most current, uncompromising psy around. The cover art for Mechanophobia is quite clear in what kind of theme to expect here: the robots rule the roost, a barren landscape ideal for metal but nothing organic. Whatever life as we know it remains is paltry, insignificant, yet still struggling on despite the odds; a cool, if timeworn concept. Let’s see how it is put into practice here.

Our first track is from Mubali, produced specifically for this compilation. Also the titular cut, it gets us off on the right foot, consisting of sound effect samples any self-respecting Trekkie will recognize as background ambience of a Borg ship - and few things are as frightening as the concept of the Borg. The track progresses through an assortment of warped mechanical soundscapes while a stuttery, monotone bassline relentlessly growls with the driving rhythms. As with a lot of this kind of stuff, there really aren’t any noticeable hooks, merely passages where the sounds at work will find structure for a bit before moving onto something else. The final stanza does give us a brief hook though.

Japan Connection from Mind Distortion System is a little more traditional psy. The main hook that worms its way around is kind of a whispery shuffle while paranoid pads, stuttery psy synths, and quirky sound effects complement it. But, um, what’s with those pauses to play a sample of a folksy whistle tune? A clever joke that missed the mark? Perhaps, or I just don’t get it [edit: it’s from Kill Bill, 2006 Sykonee].

Anyhow, Polyphonia’s Ano Kato eradicates any trace of lingering goofiness from Japan Connection with an utterly uncompromising assault of menacing psytekk. No hooks or family-friendly rhythms here; just overbearing mechanical sound effects demolishing human sensibility. And the beats don’t let up either, pummeling away and growing ever increasingly aggressive as the sound effects do. Yeah, it’s a noisy, incoherent track that would definitely get plenty of “Turn that shit off!” complaints from those not hip to this stuff, but then Ano Kato isn’t trying to be anything but.

The Baba Jelly track aside - which has a goofier tone to it, including a pure ‘what the fuck?’ moment when a sample of some drunken pirate jig interrupts the track - much of Mechanophobia carries on in the same vein as Ano Kato: very driving, very mechanical, and very uninviting to the casual listener. You’d have to be completely absorbed in the atmosphere these tracks create if you hope to get anything out of them, as feeding you easily digestible melodies is furthest from these producers’ minds.

Unfortunately, the fact they all make use of the same sort of bass as outlined in the title track complicates things. Not only are the soundscapes uncooperative if you want something catchy, but the rhythms aren’t diverse enough, making things repetitive from track to track. Granted, there are slight differences the acute listener will pick out, and Olien’s Calamari carries some wicked resonance that’ll absorb you within its suffocating menace, but much of this will probably pass you by if you were to merely throw it on as background music.

The mold is finally broken with Procs’ bizarrely titled Big Fat Large Snoring Lamas. This is one of the most utterly demented tracks I’ve heard in quite some time. My best attempt at describing it goes something like this: a country-fair funhouse, controlled by insane clown droids, as seen through a distortion field while tripping on a hallucinogen. I don’t know if that makes sense, but Snoring Lamas is quirky fun anyways, just because the warped soundscapes and bouncy rhythms are still incredibly catchy without dipping into the cheese factory. Your attention will never stray, always intrigued by what bit of unpredictable madness will crop up next.

The compilation closes on Psyfactor’s Vodka Madness, a more typical excursion into psy trance’s arena than most of what we’ve heard throughout. It is still a dark, twisted track, but chunky acid hooks and oddball sounds form a more accessible foundation compared to everything else.

For those after a diverse assortment of tunes, Mechanophobia isn’t a remarkable compilation. It sticks to its theme throughout, and I suppose you can’t really fault it for that. There are a couple of shining moments which would grab a casual listener’s attention, but this is squarely aimed at the dark psy fans who enjoy their music as inhuman and non-musical as possible. The original industrial ethos lives on!


ACE TRACKS:
Olien - Calamari
Procs - Big Fat Large Snoring Lamas

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2006. © All rights reserved.

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