I once worked in a restaurant that served a peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwich; at least once a day a customer made a nauseated face and asked me if anyone actually ordered it. I always explained that we often enjoy contradictory flavors. The Elvis, as we called it, merely combined sweet and salty, soft and crunchy, like the sandwich equivalent of a chocolate covered pretzel. We find this everywhere, from mango habanero buffalo wings to most Indian food, but still some combinations, no matter how delicious they ultimately taste, can still seem like strange ideas at first.
I thought about this while absorbing ASSASSUN’s new LP, Chronic Quicksand Depression Morning. Vlimmer’s Alexander Leonard Donat has long boasted a reputation for strange music that defies and denies classification, and this synth-tinged side project proves no different in its sophomore release. Donat pairs standard synth-pop sounds with aggressive, pulsing beats and shouted lyrics more at home in a basement punk show than a dance club. This results in an almost familiar sound; we’re about 3 distorted layers away from industrial or harsh EBM. However, the cleanliness of the synths and vocals leaves us in an uncanny valley between familiar genres—just different enough to be disconcerting. Donat thrives on the unease of his listeners, doubling down with powerful imagery that bristles in all the right ways.
Such a gutsy experiment can lead to uneven results, and some tracks definitely land better than others. But when Donat lands, he does so with the poise and confidence of someone unafraid to challenge widely-held beliefs on key, song structure, and mixing. “The Ivories and I” drones like a classic Xymox track on a boombox with dying batteries, which fits the longing the lyrics deliver. “Shapeshifters” gives me electronic proto-industrial vibes, while “Joie de Vivre” is an 80s coming of age movie dragged through the gravel until it finally admits what reality actually looks like. When ASSASSUN brings his A game, we don’t just listen; the music transforms us with introspective emotions poured into our ears. I won’t claim it’s for everyone, but I will absolutely fight for Chronic Quicksand Depression Morning’s inclusion as a work of art.
Standout Track – “Fear Doubled”: I’m not sure anything in this album actually works in a club DJ set, but damn I would dance to this live. The synth pads give us a false sense of relaxed hope before joining the rest of this railroad song in pushing us over the edge. Sounding like a poisoned Fad Gadget, the music holds up Donat, who almost shouts at us before disdainly uttering, “Look what they’ve done to you.” Somewhere between a Nitzer Ebb chant song and a lecture, “Fear Doubled” echoes the disappointment a lot of us feel with current situations, including ourselves. I’d almost call it the pop song of the album; it uses more structure and hooks than most of the release. But Donat isn’t interested in being popular. He’s going to deliver a message whether we’re listening or not.