A cast of talented musicians and the darkness of a drawer make for an interesting duality.
Blessedly free of eight minute dirges, plodding male vocals and other dark wave wankery, Illusions of Identity presents us with nine crisp tunes reminiscent of Martin Hannett’s austere design, with none of the orbiting emptiness between melody. In just under thirty minutes, we have both airy pop sensibilities and an acute sensation of claustrophobia, splinters of jubilation and despair. Taking inspiration from acts such as The Soft Moon and Vince Clarke, Artificial Monuments has put forth an album that post-punk purists and pop aficionados will embrace. The corollary is a long, dark ride on your own highway – the fade in and out of headlights, dissociation, punctuated by moments of lucidity and intimacy: this juxtaposition is almost viscerally effective and ultimately, immensely satisfying.
Danish punk scene veterans Kim Wolf and Johannah Jørgensen formed Artificial Monuments in 2013; a handful of demos were put to tape before they asked MOTH alum Patrick Ringsborg to join. According to Ringsborg, the trio wanted something stylistically very different from both MOTH and Johanna’s old band, Metro Cult: ‘We thought we were cutting it down to size, making very minimal cold wave in the style of acts like say, Malaria! but the pop melodies kept creeping in, and the synths kept on layering and layering, and we ended up with this weird amalgamation of super minimalistic compositions and 2-bar pop hooks.’ A few shows in Copenhagen, one in Malmö , and the group was ready to start putting an album together.
Unfortunately, in 2015, an accident left the band without their friend and vocalist Jørgensen, and the project fell by the wayside. Tragedy often lends a measure of truth to a scene frequently fueled by self-indulgence; however, the band is reluctant to talk about it. Ringsborg’s manner is candid yet cautious when speaking of Johannah; ‘It is not a secret’, he says. ‘Even though the LP is drenched in the story, I don’t know how to tell the story and keep it tactful.’
So the nascent record sat. A few years later, the remaining members agreed to get to work. Some of the songs were merely ideas, simply, as Ringsborg says, ‘a synth hook on a mobile phone’. The skeletons of the melody were there, but revisiting them proved interesting. ‘The AM songs were left in the drawer for 3+ years before we agreed on finishing the album, and in the mean time we were listening to vastly different stuff from when we wrote the songs.’ This time around, instead of Iron Curtain and Neon Judgment, Ringsborg took his own inspiration from Bel-pop and ‘cheesy New Age synth’ music. Obviously, he’s not surprised in the marked tonal shift. ‘You do an album on and off over 5 years, it kind of takes on a life of its own!’ Left to his own devices with regards to mixing and mastering, Totem’s Christoffer Bagge offered his skills and support.
As they say, many hands make light work. A host of talented musicians backed the group in its final act – women artists, in particular. Johannah’s sister, Sally Dige, was one of the many who helped Illusions of Identity get off the ground. Ina Noire and Lisa Løebekken absolutely kill the darkly elegant “Wasteful Days” – a disco twist which wouldn’t be out of place on that album Al Jourgensen doesn’t want to talk about. Likewise, Mala Herba’s gelid vocals manage to lay like syrup over the peaks in “The Sun is Anaemic”. A febrile thump countervailed by Johannah’s sultry hum, “Succumb” is, for lack of a better term, a fucking banger. Cecilia Wörlen’s beautifully languid contribution to “Tired Bodies” is almost chipper, contrasting sharply with its lyrics. The lone track to which Ringsborg lends his voice is aptly named: “Incremental Vex”. His spidery whispers sound prophetic as the song builds, plateaus, and ends almost quickly as it begins – your panic attack neatly resolved in under three minutes. Conversely, the following instrumental track “Void” sounds hopeful in comparison.
What’s next for Artificial Monuments? Ringsborg says this is it. ‘We are very proud and happy that it is finally coming out, it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to do. I’m sure that what we’ve ended up with is substantially different than what we would have done had we been able to finish the album organically back in 2015. Whether that is a good or a bad thing in regards to the outcome of the album, there’s just no way of telling.’
Artificial Monuments’ cassette will be out later this month on Funeral Tapes /Rusted Teeth, and keep an eye out for the LP, to be released on Dead Wax Records this summer.