Album Review: Violetshaped – Violetshaped

[Violet Poison; 2013]

If hypnagogic pop and vaporwave don’t seem quite as prevalent as they were a couple years ago, one reason might be that those genres’ sense of decay and nostalgia has shifted over to an industrial reinterpretation of dancefloor tropes. Which is to say: industrial seems to be the new hypnagogic, insofar as it utilizes lo-fi production techniques to make songs that emphasize texture and ambiance as much as they do songwriting, melody, or even rhythm.

And labels such as Hospital Productions, Blackest Ever Black, and Tri Angle have been leading the charge. From The Haxan Cloak’s abstract imaginary soundtracks and Thought Broadcast’s lovingly broken transmissions to more blatantly droning works from the likes of Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement and Joachim Nordwell, scores of contemporary artists have gone to great lengths to reclaim industrial music from the death grips of goth kids and Marilyn Manson acolytes. Throbbing Gristle seems just as relevant now (if not more so) as it must have been in the late 70s. Enough time may have passed for us to begin viewing Soviet-era machinations with rose-tinted glasses (cracked and caked with dust, of course)–and here I mean actual machinations of the KGB and CIA, rather than just the collective Western cultural response to such(which would eventually fall under the purview of the “chillwave” genre). So it’s no surprise that Violetshaped (the album) sounds classified, like music that’s been locked up in a file cabinet for years. It succeeds in letting its own machinations build an atmosphere that’s as appealing as it is disturbing.

Violetshaped (the artist) is a duo consisting of two techno producers: Berlin’s Shapednoise and, uh, whoever’s doing the Violet Poison thing. (It could frankly be the same guy, but it’s more fun to take the artists at their word.) Tellingly, both artists have already released noise-techno-drone records simply dripping with industrial doom & gloom this year–and both on Hospital Productions. That fact alone should give you enough context with which to approach their debut collaborative release (as well as the first full-length put out by their Violet Poison imprint), which takes notions of “techno reimagined as pounding rhythmic noise” to its sweetest extreme yet. The clattering sub-rhythms of “Out Of Any Symmetry,” the booming bursts of white (black?) noise and kick-drum compression of “cX310,” the narrative arc of “Spectral Nightdrive” that begins like a submerged heartbeat before falling into a vast chasm of snarling, stuttering IDM, the tribal rigidity of the war drums on “Down Regulation”: this is stark, unwelcoming music that makes up for its lack of discernible melodies with various atonal beats that thud like static-drenched explosions. “Spectral Nightdrive,” for instance, gains momentum not via ably-placed hooks and bridges or transforming samples but rather the teeth-chattering intrusion of a fast-paced hi-hit, buttressed by all manner of electronic groans and grimaces. Yet it’s no less thrilling for its grimy minimalism, no less enjoyable for all its charged pessimism. Here’s an album in which a track titled “Delusory Parasitosis” is somehow one of its most (relatively) optimistic moments, perhaps thanks to its buoyant danceability.

Violetshaped is a forty-minute exploration of monochromatic synthesis, an ode to noise in miniature, a celebration not of the light at the end of the tunnel but rather of the enveloping shadows therein. Its bleakness is unrelenting; its aversion to harmony and counterpoint constitutes an almost oppressive atmosphere. Yet for all its menacing inaccessibility, there’s something intangibly compelling about this music, like an abandoned Siberian factory town you can’t help but want to revisit. The viscerally invigorating beats are the capsule through which Violetshaped deliver their acidic polemics. Some albums are called “desert island records” because you’d want to have them were you stranded in such an isolated place (with, you know, a working music player). I’d call this a “bottom of the well record,” for if I ever found myself in that most unfortunate position, this is the music that would best allow me to cope.