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In Rotation: High-Functioning Flesh, Slowdive, Drab Majesty, Box and the Twins (Review)

Minimalist industrial punk; the return of a shoegaze legend; dreamy inter-dimensional post-punk; and darkly lush pop from Germany.
High-Functioning Flesh

In Rotation is a regular Opus feature where I post short reviews of noteworthy music, both new and old, that I’ve been listening to lately.

Definite Structures by High-Functioning Flesh

Definite Structures - High-Functioning Flesh

Though the term “industrial” will be applied to High-Functioning Flesh, I wouldn’t be surprised if some genre fans are a bit disappointed upon hearing their music. For better or worse, “industrial” is popularly associated with the metal/electronic hybrid popularized by Nine Inch Nails. But High-Functioning Flesh’s stripped down sound has more in common with the genre’s foundational artists (e.g., Cabaret Voltaire, Front 242).

But “harsh” is something of a relative term. Yes, there’s a bluntness to Greg Vand and Susan Subtract’s music, but there’s also something charming (for lack of a better term) about its scrappy, lo-fi aesthetic. Most songs follow a pretty standard formula: Subtract’s voice rasps and growls over Vand’s minimal synth-work, with plenty of distorted samples thrown in for good measure.

The resulting music is certainly jagged with a punk-like attitude and posture — but it’s also very catchy and even dance-y, particularly on album opener “Hunger Cries” as well as “Afterbirth” and “Grotesque Light.” Ultimately, High-Functioning Flesh’s music reveals a fine truth: music doesn’t need to sacrifice accessibility or hummability in order to be “in your face” and confrontational. Vand and Subtract’s music is all of the above, and better for it.

“Star Roving” by Slowdive

Star Roving - Slowdive

There’s always some fear when a favorite band returns after a long absence. Do they still have that spark or magic that first drew you to their music? Have they sold out, compromised, or let their talent slip? Or, just as bad, are you as a fan so imprisoned by nostalgia that you’re unable to respect and appreciate any artistic growth, but instead, just want more of the same — even if said artist wants to try something fresh after all this time?

These thoughts were rolling around inside my head while listening to “Star Roving,” the first new song from Slowdive (my favorite band) in over 20 years. For the most part, fans can breathe a sigh of relief: it’s unquestionably Slowdive at its core, from the chord progressions to Neil Halstead’s hazy vocals to the guitar notes shimmering along the song’s periphery. There’s something very ’90s about it, too — as if the band tapped into the spirit of their decade of origin, dusted it off, and dragged it into 2017.

What is new is the song’s intensity; “Star Roving” is arguably the most aggressive song in Slowdive’s catalog. There’s none of the dreamy, drifting melancholy that characterized so many of their classic songs — which does take some getting used to. Slowdive’s new album will be released later this year on Dead Oceans. In light of that, “Star Roving” is ultimately comforting proof that the band hasn’t lost their way after two decades.

“Cold Souls” by Drab Majesty

The Demonstration - Drab Majesty

According to Facebook, Drab Majesty is “an inter-dimensional platform aimed at channeling aural and visual messages” that are intended to “demonstrate the power in relinquishing ownership to a divine design, thereby handing inspiration over to the spirit world.”

That description, combined with Andrew Clinco’s androgynous persona (replete with glam-rock makeup) might lead you to expect something à la Ziggy Stardust. In fact, Clinco — who goes by the stage name Deb Demure — crafts an atmospheric brand of post-punk that hints at Joy Division, the Chameleons, and Echo and the Bunnymen as well as newer acts like Posh Lost and Wild Nothing.

“Cold Souls” is one of the first singles from Drab Majesty’s upcoming Demonstration album (due out on Dais Records later this month) and it’s a beautiful gem full of shimmering guitars, sweeping synths, electronic rhythms, with Clinco’s deep, spectral voice as the pièce de résistance. Like all great post-punk, it’s gloomy enough to make you want to break out the black fingernail polish — so gloomy, in fact, that it becomes rather majestic (no pun intended).

Everywhere I Go Is Silence by Box And The Twins

Everywhere I Go Is Silence - Box and the Twins

German dark pop trio Box and the Twins bears some similarities to another “Twin” group: the inimitable Cocteau Twins. There are surface-level similarities, i.e., both groups are, in fact, trios consisting of a female vocalist, guitarist, and bassist. More importantly, though, both are adept at conjuring up gorgeous atmospherics. But whereas Cocteau Twins typify dreampop on albums like Treasure and Milk and Kisses, Box and the Twins inhabit a darker sonic space.

For starters, Box’s voice is much less prone to glossolalia, and she sings in a lower register that still feels sultry despite the icy detachment and world weariness. And the German trio’s songs are just that: songs, with gloomy post-punk melodies galore and emotional heft. (See “This Place Called Nowhere,” with its soaring sense of heartache.)

As it turns out, Everywhere I Go Is Silence’s cover art, with its image of a lone individual dwarfed by a giant, implacable waterfall, is more than apt. It’s easy to let yourself get swallowed up by the trio’s dark, chilly music. You can alternately use words like “dreampop,” “goth,” and “shoegaze” to describe it — but best just to let yourself give in to the flow.

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