It was bound to happen. After a few years of bands cribbing from all sorts of ‘80s musical styles, most notably ska and New Wave, someone made a record that sounds like it came straight from the modern rock dance clubs of 1989. This period of music is often overlooked because it had very few artists to emerge from it with any kind of track record, but by no means does that mean it was a forgettable time. Between acid house, industrial and Manchester, the club scene in the late ‘80s was positively booming with ideas and new directions.
One person who clearly knows this is Nathan Scott, the man behind Aalacho. His eponymous, self-released debut pays direct homage to late ‘80s alternative (or, as it was then called, postmodern) music. Imagine Brian Eno giving Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine the ambient treatment, and you’re close. Lots of disconnected voices, dirty drum beats and distorted keyboards sitting next to moments of stunning beauty. The biggest problem with it: the final mixdown is fatally flawed.
The spooky “Acid Rain” starts things off, with a simple one-note bass line layered in all kinds of atmospherics. It won’t be long before this shows up in a sci-fi movie, as it has both an otherworldly feel and a slight sense of dread. “Satellite” is Shriekback with better machines; it’s incredibly lush for something that’s almost entirely synthetic. Acoustic guitars team up with the processed, subliminal vocals and create the effect of a song lost in space.
But therein lies a major problem with Aalacho: the lead vocals are positively buried. They never reach a volume level higher than any other instrument, and as a result, the vocals seem to be nothing more than just another instrumental track in the overall mix. Judging from the lyric sleeve, Scott obviously has something to say, but damned if we can understand a word of it.
In some instances, it’s not such a bad thing that the vocals are buried. The throbbing “Mr. Monster” is a bouncy house track that features Holly Ayster complaining about getting hit on in clubs, and the main lyric you’ll take away from it is “He’s such an asshole”. On the other hand, there’s the closing track, “I’ll Remember”, a gorgeous piano ballad with a reverb-laden vocal that somehow evokes Prince’s “Purple Rain”. I haven’t a clue what he’s actually saying without checking the lyric sheet, but the music itself is enough to carry the song. I can only imagine how wonderful it would be if I could sing along.
The album isn’t a complete nostalgia trip, though. “Press (Don’t Lie to Me Anymore)” is clearly the work of a Bjork fan, with a “Big Time Sexuality” four-on-the-floor groove going. “X-Ray”, meanwhile, doesn’t sound like anything from the ‘80s or ‘90s but rather Brian Eno’s work from the late ‘70s, with a simple keyboard pattern floating along with a kick drum keeping it from floating away. Following the Front 242-ish “Belfry” makes “X-Ray” sound even more ethereal. There is definitely something to be said for sequencing.
Club music’s popularity has exploded in the last couple years, yet the music itself has become woefully predictable and surprisingly boring. Every DJ and remixer seems to use the same drum machines, filling their mixes with the exact same crescendo and rat-tat-tat drum fill (the remix of “Satellite” featured at the end of this disc is no exception, either) as the next guy, to the point where one song is completely indistinguishable from the next one. This happens from time to time. It happened in the early ‘90s, when techno blew up and flamed out. Luckily, the Chemical Brothers were there to bail everyone out back then, and in turn launch a whole new scene (Big Beat)—which subsequently blew up and flamed out. Aalacho‘s debut will not likely have the same impact that the Chemicals’ Exit Planet Dust did, but it’s an encouraging sign that the artists themselves are fed up with the state of dance music.
// Notes from the Road
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