Art, in the form of music or otherwise, is in some ways an act of concealment. However laborious and painstakingly detailed its production may be, great work often gives off the illusion of being spontaneous, simple, or even easy. In the case of techno, this illusion applies chiefly to rhythm: the lengthy repetition of seemingly simple beat arrangements may baffle the genre’s detractors, but fans can attest to the sublime heights achieved by masters of the form through subtle techniques.
At what point exactly do the extended meditations of great techno drift closer to monotony, though? I don’t have a clear answer, but Black Asteroid’s Thrust helps us at least start to draw up a map on the subject. It’s ironic that producer Bryan Black formerly worked for Prince, an artist widely noted for his precision and attention to detail, as Black’s first solo full-length lacks any such subtlety. The album draws on minimal techno of the grimmest variety, painting in broad strokes of blacks and greys to convince the listener, circularly, just how dark it really is. Each kick lands with a dull, plodding thud, and while most tracks here aren’t especially long for the genre, they have a way of feeling interminable.
The album includes features from a star-studded cast of contemporary goth-pop mainstays, namely Zola Jesus and Cold Cave. This seemed a positive sign for an album intent on doubling down on darkness, but even these able contributions manage to backfire. Nika Danilova and Wesley Eisold’s vocals mirror the blunt force of Black’s production almost too perfectly, and rather than complicate or add to their respective tracks; their features merely accentuate the music’s most obvious characteristics.
Though Thrust contains a few good ideas, Black has a way of overplaying his hand to the point of exhaustion. “Black Moon” is among the best tracks here, its techno beats wrapped in a radiating drone approximating an earworm. Followed up immediately by “Howl”, itself not a bad song when taken in isolation, and the redundant beats and restricted sound palette of industrial clatter start to drag, however.
By the end of track three, Thrust has deployed two of its best tracks and nonetheless has already lost most of its steam, then. This doesn’t stop Black from using two additional Cold Cave features later on, amounting to nearly a third of the whole LP, with diminishing returns each time. The hushed, menacing whisper at the end of “Hear Comes Fear”, which sounds like a remix of a latter-day Marilyn Manson song, is not so much convincing as downright eye roll-inducing.
As its punishing patterns become increasingly apparent and predictable, Thrust bears the unfortunate distinction of growing more intolerable with each listen. No matter how much one enjoys dark techno or electro-industrial music, there simply are not enough animating ideas at play here to bring such aesthetics to life, or to approach them in new ways. The sonic machinery of the album coughs, wheezes, sputters, and thuds, but never offers any insight or innovation. Rather than channeling misery, Thrust has a way of inflicting it.
// Notes from the Road
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