Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Just tossing out some reviews of records from last year that I slept on (for better and worse) before tackling some fresher stuff.

Flint Glass, "Nyarlathotep"
I'm a sucker for any pop culture product that makes even the vaguest reference to HP Lovecraft. As a dedicated scholar of Lovecraft's fiction and philosophy, this typically results either in disappointment (from the tendency in other writers to reduce his creatures to beings motivated by petty and utterly human evil, to the sheer ridiculousness of "real Necronomicons" being taken seriously by gullible idiots) or the collection of some amusing kitsch (from the charming anachronistic film adaptation of his most famous story to Cthulhu slippers). Occasionally, though, something truly remarkable, like Rudimentary Peni's "Cacophony", crops up. Over twenty years later, we have "Nyarlathotep", a Lovecraft-based record of an entirely different cast.

Flint Glass' second LP is a sleek excursion through dark ambient territory that never bores or drones. As with HPL's use of his most awful creations (after which the majority of tracks on the album are named), stark and explicit horror is left off the record, implied instead by menacing implication. When beats bubble to the surface (as on album highlight "Nephren-Ka") they evoke Lovecraft's love for the exploratory revelations of science more than any noisy and chaotic beasts. Moreover, there's a paradoxical sense of calm that starts to temper the danger this record conjures upon repeat listenings. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Flint Glass' one member, Gwenn Trémorin, elected to name this record after one of Lovecraft's most ambiguous figures. While in some fiction Nyarlathotep is wholly alien, in other works he's clearly modeled after various historical gods of science, trickery and heraldry: Loki, Hermes, Prometheus and Osiris.

For the more pragmatically minded who couldn't give a toss about Lovecraft, this is a stellar dark ambient record, with gorgeous art and packaging as well as some decent remixes from the likes of Ah Cama-Sotz and This Morn' Omina to sweeten the deal. Recommended.

Flint Glass - "Nephren-Ka"

Apoptygma Berzerk, "Sonic Diary"
Enticed by the thoroughly stomping Mesh remake of "Mourn", I decided to wander 'round Stephen Groth's neck of the woods, to see what had changed since "Welcome To Earth". At this point, I don't think it's unfair to cast Apop as the EBM equivalent of Metallica: a string of albums loved by genre fans and critics, then a turning point record, half-full of classic jams, half-full of pitiful attempts at mainstream success, then nothing but boring faux-alterna schlock, alienating their fanbase. While Metallica and Apop might gripe that too much attention has been paid to the shifts in their respective images that accompanied their bids for crossover acceptance, I'll counter that it's more enjoyable to mock Groth's last-ditch emo-cut or Kirk Hammett's wannabe-Dave Navarro posing than it is to actually listen to "Load" or "You And Me Against The World".

Anyhow, "Sonic Diary" is a comp of cover tracks, old and new, plus a bonus disc of remixes. I'll be a weirdo and deal with the bonus disc first. The aforementioned Mesh remix remains stellar, a vengeful bootstrapping of a classic cut, but there's really nothing else of note. All but one of the other remixes are from the "Harmonizer" and "You And Me Against The World" eras and only highlight how threadbare the original versions were. That one exception is a complete remake of "Deep Red", and unless you want to know what that song might sound like if Good Charlotte covered it, I'd suggest avoiding it at all costs.

The main disc doesn't fare much better. Almost half of these tracks have already appeared on APB LPs and EPs, perhaps explaining the need for the bonus disc in order for any units to be shifted. Older covers like "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "Electricity" hold onto some charm, but recent takes on "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" and "Bizarre Love Triangle" are nothing short of criminal. Much of the newer material suffers due to Groth's attempts at stretching his voice well outside of his comfort zone, which wouldn't be half as bad if the tracks weren't structured so as to make his vocals their focal point. Just about the only recent track that does anything is "Cambodia", which chugs along nicely and I imagine might work well as the opening theme to an anime series involving airships. For real. No, no digs about a Kim Wilde cover beating out OMD or Kraftwerk - you can't hate on "Kids In America".

So, with the exceptions of "Cambodia" and the "Mourn" remake, "Sonic Diary" embodies pretty much everything that's gone wrong with Apop over the last seven years: egotistical yet pandering, bloated but short on substance, awkward and utterly forgettable. In closing, and by way of summing up how this record makes me feel, listening to it made the thought "this is a bad adaptation of a Keane song" pass through my mind. What could a "good" cover of a Keane song possible sound like? Argh. Damn you, Groth.

Apoptygma Berzerk - "Cambodia"

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