(Rocket Machine Tapes, 2013)
Bob McCully’s been a busy boy this year, what with the release of his fantastic debut cassette Lifer/Exister back in … well, December 2012 (we reviewed it in April – sue us) on British microlabel Jehu & Chinaman. Now we’ve got his follow-up, the equally audacious concept album Midnight/Never Die in a limited run of 35 cassettes through Rocket Machine Tapes. And hey, guess what? It’s already sold out. Like, duh – 35 ain’t gonna last. So shouldn’t you have done something about this way earlier than today? Why on earth am I even reviewing it if you can’t even get it? Oh wait … bandcamp. Thank god for bandcamp. No limitations on digital!
I’m a pretty big fan of McCully’s work as Wizard Of, which is much more easily swallowable than his previous band, the hard-ass Women in Tragedy. (Great name, great trajectory—Wizard Of is just better, and it’s all opinion, homie.) He mixes up downtempo electronic genres like dubstep, footwork, and drownstep (isn’t that sorta like dubstep? I’m lost), and infuses the whole thing with pulsing beats and thick shoegaze synths, drifting close to something like M83’s dreamier moments, or Infinity Shred’s interstellar shockwaves. Midnight/Never Die showcases a heightened reliance on vocal samples, compared to Lifer/Exister, and they’re truly a positive standout – McCully clearly knows what he’s doing with them. Thus, Midnight/Never Die takes on a much grittier veneer than its predecessor, and this seems to be the point. The vocals are all pitchshifted out of a normal human vocal range, either higher or lower, and this gives listeners a sense of imbalance, a bit of late-night vertigo as they’re transported into the underbelly of London’s club circuit, a place McCully seems to know fairly well. Again, we’re on somewhat of an M83 scale here, as glimpses of Before the Dawn Heals Us peek through in places. (Hey, they have a song called “Midnight City”! That’s helpful to my narrative, if not a particularly useful point of reference. Oh well.)
Also like Lifer/Exister, Midnight/Never Die is split into “Midnight I” through “Midnight V” on side A, then “Never Die I” through “Never Die V” on the flip. The thematic differences are readily apparent – the “Midnight” side is darker, harder, still amped on liquor and energy drinks (at the least), the vocal samples predominantly male and somewhat forceful. It’s a sketch of a city at night, and like all good records attempting to convey that sort of time and place, it’s exciting, dangerous, and manic. There’s really no better tone setter than “Midnight I” as it crashes cars and gets chased by cops down alleys.
The “Never Die” side is less white-knuckled tense – it’s more an uneasiness of how the post-midnight (or post-“Midnight”) results will play out. But there’s still an aggressiveness to it, and the beats continue to stutter until gray dawn starts creeping over the skyline. There an sense of relief that morning has come, but a darkness still of what’s passed. The vocal samples throughout side B are feminine, or at least effeminate, calling to mind disembodied spiritual beings accompanying the listener (or whatever character’s brought to life by the music). There’s less anger, more oh-crap-what-have-I-done?-Here-we-go!
The whole thing’s mixed expertly like a DJ set, even though the album is broken up into individual songs. Each track incorporates themes that have come before it, and pieces and parts crop up throughout the album that are eminently recognizable. It’s a pretty impressive feat to wrap all that together without sounding stale. Bob McCully does that, and proves he’s still got it.
RIYL: God Is an Astronaut, Jatun, DJ Rashad, Infinity Shred