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.
As 2021 begins and the world continues it’s isolation we find comfort where we can. For me that has been finishing an album, enjoying our ShadowBook Facebook group, and finding amazing new music to drop my hard earned duckets down for on Bandcamp day. The first Friday of every month Bandcamp gives all of it’s proceeds from album sales directly to the artist. So let me fire through what will be taking up residence in my ever expanding collection.
Stoneburner – No Light No Spark – It is fairly well known Steven is a friend of the page. That is why I appreciate it so much he never makes me forfeit my integrity by consistently putting out increasingly amazing albums. In this one he calls upon an army of Industrial compatriots to remix some of his recent work. (Bellhead/Assemblage 23 / Machines With Human Skin / Dogtablet/ Sister Sarin / Stabbing Westward / Joy Thieves / Bativia / Hollowboy / Pill Brigade). It’s always a joy to here material you love, reimagined by other people you love. Often they do something I always want to hear from Steven, which is giving even more clarity to his concepts and poetry.
Standout Tracks: All of them.
Amnesialand(Dogtablet – Soldier Ant Mix) Static strikes like brushes, a machine powers up, Steven’s rapping flow is clarified and direct. I love how the drums slide off the beat behind him.
Are You There The WayI’m Here (Assemblage 23 Remix) A slow and deliberate grind that isolates the lyrics. Striking hard on the front beats. Just wave after wave of giant stone wheels crushing the land before it.
No Light No Spark (Terror Management Theory version) Giant and terrifying in it’s scope. This track stomps around on iron legs with drunken fury. A stalking beast of a song.
You can never have too much Stoneburner in your collection.
SINE – DesolateDistrict Feat. Chris Connelly – This is an absolute burner single that came out last year. It’s starburst drums and satin vocals, weaving through a shattered landscape. Then it adds in Chris Fuking Connelly. I love this call and answer flow of the vocals. The power of the drum beats shakes your spine. This song is a dance club hit every place in America needs to be thumping through a system. When Connelly is the icing on your cake, that is one hell of a cake. Hot poetry like this “The name’s contagious, written in smoke You force fed energy, starved and soaked You misread crime when you look at decline Desolate district dissolute signs”
Die Robot – Frantic – Portland’s cybernetic punk energon cubes released this single in May last year. It’s that perfect synthesis of funky electropunk and smash your face flying robot fist. Great mixture of voices and sensual inflection. I got done stomping my feet to this single and picked up the whole discography. My advice is get this and then when your legs can’t dance anymore build better ones out of broken robot parts.
I Ya Toyah – Out Of Order – Chicago/Poland’s favorite one women sound extravaganza has this eagerly awaited sophomore EP out 3/26/21 which is now available for preorder. So far one single is available and just like every time Ania puts out something new, my jaw hit the floor. Instead of napalm energy, this new sound is a cutting laser or focus and complexity. Like a fine wine every moment it lingers in your throat offers a new flavor and tone. This is a must order and early contender to be on albums of the year. It’s so seldom you see someone with the talents of Ania work as hard as she does at her craft to grow exponentially with each release.
Also a bundle package available Unisex T-shirt designed by Chicago artist Danesh Kothari, printed on soft and natural Bella Canvas, plus limited edition holographic sticker, and CD in 6 panel art wallet with 6 page lyric and art insert. Photos and art by award winning European artist Krzysztof Babiracki. 15% of each physical album sale goes to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to aid mental health cause. Ania is an amazing human changing the world with everything she does.
The Churchill Garden – Fade Away – Gorgeous new dreampop single with a team up of Andy Jossi and (Whimsical) singer Krissy Vanderwoude. This track is a tear rolling slowly down the cheek just as the sun strikes it to make it sparkle. I kept feeling my heart rise up towards my throat as layer after layer emerged and joined a cacophony of tender sweeping wind. Music to make your feel.
Luis Vasquez – A Body Of Errors – I hate to be that guy, that says I was at that one show. I’m just kidding, I love to be that guy. I got to see The Soft Moon at Berghain and it altered the course of my sonic life. This new solo album is a percussion driven instrumental masterpiece. Rising cities, cities destroyed, the screams of a dying age. Textural emotive hums infusing the body and blasting a prism of colors into the mind. I’m not usually one for instrumental works but just like anything when it is done at this level it is something that moves you. Future Sounds of London with the edgy tension of Coil. I want to be back in that bunker in Berlin riding the wave of this journey of sound.
Doors In The Labyrinth – The Shadow Of The Monolith – I love when a band has so many present influences that their is no effective way to categorize it. New album from the Pittsburgh native Josh Loughrey has a textured coldwave isolation crashing up against sizzling guitars and wilderness crooning vocals. Full album release is 3/15 but this first single is full of promise and explosive energy. I had the opportunity to see Josh open for Adoration Destroyed/Lorelei Dreaming and this is an artist with a bubbling volcano of passion ready to explode.
Collapse of Dawn – of dreams and nightmares – This is a sound that really leans into it’s album name. A sinister stalking wispy electronic sound. Both Saphirra Vee and Melodywhore contribute vocals and it is a powerful combination to give the shadow images both sensuality and dark intention. My personal favorite was “Silent Howl“, it managed to elevate the surrealism to further the dream metaphor. Just like a dream or nightmare I think the true star of the show were the tiny brushstrokes of sound you don’t remember you heard until later reflection. Everyone who listens will get their own story. I’m glad I heard mine.
Kandinsky Noir – DOM-J (Feat. Grabyourface) – This track immeadiately puts you back on your heels with explosive force and smashing guitars. Very old school industrial tone with a sharp high speed modern sound. The effect is made even stronger with a wonderful guest vocal by Marie of Grabyourface providing French lyrics. This one is even more special for me because the collaboration came out of our Sounds and Shadows group. A beautiful textured jam with teeth and blood.
Dissonance – Damage 1st Assault (Feat Melodywhore) Ok I am a long time fan of Cat Hall, she has one of the most underrated voices in modern electronic. So when I say this is my favorite track I want you to appreciate the weight of that. James lays down a filthy grinding beat that really let her voice off the chain. Puts me in mind of that aggressive feminine power of Lords of Acid and My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult. All broken glass and velvet sass. I can’t wait to hear more from this powerful collaboration. The single also features some powerful remix work from Joe Haze , Machines With Human Skin, Steven Olaf, and more.