(Dagger Forest, 2015)
The assumption here is that all of you reading this right now are my very best friends, my close-knit circle of confidants to whom I can confide anything and would give my life for if the situation warranted. Indeed, I can feel the sentiment reciprocated through the digital landscape, and I truly know I’m not alone. And isn’t that just wonderful? Who needs human contact anymore in this magical age of online life? Disappointment is all physical, and the less disappointment we encounter the better. It’s so much easier to defuse an awkward situation with a grinning emoji and an exclamatory “JK!” lobbed at the offended. So let’s just call it – you’re all my bestest friends in the whole wide world, and I have nothing but GIF hugs for you all!
… Oh crap, where did I go there? That was sort of scary. Scary in a really uncomfortable way. It was like I was replaced by some wonky robot that evolved emotions and developed along the path of a forty-year-old basement-dwelling weirdo. Is that what Dagger Forest releases turn me into, a Jello-feelinged freak on the periphery, filled with circuits and wires? And … is that even that bad of a thing? Who knows for sure. All I can tell you right now is, this dank, downtempo electronic mayhem coming from London is getting into my head, and the pace and volume of sheer envelopment is not abating. So, after grappling with an earlier release by Makeup in a past life, what does this new batch of creepers bring me?
A Place Both Wonderful and Strange – Sorry for Your Loss
So these guys are actually from Brooklyn and not London – could’ve fooled me. At once dark and insanely dismal – but in a really fun way! – no, in a really dark and dismal way, APBWAS (which I will abbreviate from now on, because really, you expect me to spell that out all the time?) practice what they preach in their bio: “Occult Electronic Dance performance art.” “Blue Is Like Drowning and Drowning Is Like This (Pedestal)” is what every goth kid is going to get tattooed on their shoulder blades, only no one will ever see it because goth kids only wear black long-sleeved shirts if I’m not mistaken. What do you think that song sounds like? Dark, downtempo, electronic, with female vocals? Bingo. What do you think “Don’t” sounds like? (And don’t tell me it’s the soundtrack to the fake Eli Roth trailer either.) That’s right, dense, and dark, with male vocals pitched down and growling stuff over dark electronics. Most of the rest of the album features remixes of these songs, but “Way Out” provides a literal escape in its more traditional driving electro workout, six minutes of raucous enjoyability. It too is remixed (dubbed “We Are the Wilderness mix ft Starchy”), and the remix dials it back a little bit, but it ends on a decidedly bigger-beat note than the rest of the album. My diagnosis? APBWAS is all right, if you like black everything and nobody understands you. (Nobody understands me either, that’s why I’m pushing the whole VR lifestyle thing. Although I did already debunk that as a delusion. Ah, heck, everybody needs some delusions now and then, probably.)
HeveN – a n g e l
To paraphrase the Talking Heads, heaven is a place where nothing ever happens. That’s good news, because “b e t t e r (feat. c h i c k ♥ f l i c k)” opens with a woman intoning, “I never believed in heaven.” What does this all mean??? Well, it means if there’s no heaven, then there’s no place where nothing ever happens, and in non-heaven, here, now, nothing is always not happening. Get it? No? I lost myself too there. Eff it. Point is, HeveN is making it happen, and on a n g e l, that whole downtempo electronic thing again that Dagger Forest peddles is front and center and pretty great. Somewhere between goth and R&B exists this totally drifting, head-down-in-the-rain vibe, a fitting release by such a mysterious artist. Is HeveN mysterious? I dunno, probably. Maybe. I don’t see any bio on HeveN. Maybe HeveN isn’t even human at all, ever think of that? Maybe HeveN, too, is a robot that evolved feelings! Wouldn’t surprise me. This is permanently depressed android music. I like it – I think it’s my favorite release of the three.
Rough Year – Mongrel
Hmm… maybe Rough Year’s Mongrel is my favorite of the batch. I’m digging this one. The songs stretch out to much greater lengths than those on the other releases, and if you know me, you know I’m a huge fan of releases that contain monolithic compositions. Some of these stretch well past ten minutes. Neat! Still, remember, this is Dagger Forest, so there’s not going to be a lot of diversity in style, and that’s OK – they’ve curated a sound, and they’re sticking to it, and I applaud them for it. Rough Year, though, warps the downtempo electronic palette and fills it with exciting samples, extended footwork beatscapes, sinister piano passages, and the most energetic drownstep this side of the Atlantic. Figures – Rough Year hails from Philly (Phillies, represent!), and Philly isn’t exactly known to have an obvious sensitive goth side to its personality. Mongrel fits the release theme though, no matter how much I try to peg it as an outlier. Again, a good thing! Actually, if I was going to have a true rough year, then Rough Year would be my soundtrack of choice. Right? Right? Who’s with me on that? You don’t need to be a robot with a heart of mangled emotion chips to enjoy a little humor.