I suppose the trendy thing to do with Codec & Flexor’s second full-length album Killermachine would be to file it under “E” for electroclash. Then it would safely fit under the umbrella of a recent trend (though, of late, a curiously quiet trend) and fall into the background. To do this, however, would be missing not just a piece of the puzzle, but the whole border, the entire structure that holds it together as a cohesive piece of work.
Sure, it has plenty in common with the electroclash movement, most identifiably the metronomic backbeat that holds together almost every single one of the twelve tracks. What is neglected in filing it under such a heading, however, is that Killermachine owes at least as much to the electronic body music (EBM) scene of the late ‘80s, when bands like Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb were making a valiant (if not terribly successful) bid for mainstream success. The sound of Killermachine is sparse and aggressive, and the synth lines that Codec puts together are propulsive, distorted, and invariably minor-key. Codec’s habit of using crunchy synth lines that build on top of each other, often smoothed over by a pretty melody or three on top of a hip-hop or dance beat, evokes a little bit of the Covenant/VNV Nation school of EBM as well, focusing on intentional simplicity with no sacrifice of aggression.
It’s Flexor’s vocals that bring the sound back around to the modern electroclash scene—where the typical EBM album is focused on nihilism and the decline of civilization (if you’ll allow for the broad generalization), Flexor’s subject matter is decidedly more, uh, emo. He has a nasally voice and a German inflection to his words that oddly falls into a drawl at points, and his undistorted vocals are most often found singing about ... relationships. “I’ll be gone / To become strong enough to wave goodbye / As a friend I’ll always be here”, he sings over one of Codec’s less menacing synth lines, and the sensitivity of his words is disarming. More often, he takes the persona of the cocky alpha male, always at the ready with a flippant kiss-off or a disaffected come-on: “We’re forced by pure obsession / of sexual suicidal tendencies”, he croons in the album opener, “Do What You Want”, a dangerous invite made all the more sensual by the pulsing electronics beneath. Of course, Codec & Flexor eventually face the aftermath of such recklessness in the Gary Numan by way of Depeche Mode stylings of “Surface of Sorrow”: “The seas of sadness took our ship”, he says in a groan-worthy moment of metaphor, but his point is loud and clear.
Each one of the tunes on Killermachine follows the formula of untreated vocals, dueling synth lines, and dance beats, so there’s not a lot of variation to be found. The formula works best in its most aggressive moments, as on potential dancefloor-filler “Step By Step”, which features a funkier-than-usual bassline, occasional A.M. radio-treated vocals, and bonus distorted guitar work in the chorus. Codec’s willingness to ultimately give in to his EBM leanings on album closer “Make a Sound”; harsh, staticy beat noises and the squelchiest, most distorted synths on the album work to his benefit, even if it does sound a bit like he’s trying to cover for his partner’s ill-timed decision to bust out the falsetto.
As for Flexor, he’s at his best when he’s at his most ridiculous—inspired snippets like “I can’t hold you close / My arms are tired” (from “My Arms Are Tired”), “I don’t listen if you’re speakin’ / ‘Cause your talkin’ makes me itch” (from “Get Ready”), and the utterly hilarious “I’m a stupid mo-fo / Baby shake it solo” (from “I Want to Give it to You”) aren’t just excellent for the words, but also for the utter conviction Flexor puts behind them. That “German drawl” he’s got going only adds to the mix.
So while it may be true that it’s not exactly great poetry, and while the constant musical allusions to various types of electronic music pretty much guarantee that nothing groundbreaking is going on here, Killermachine is a surprisingly listenable album (especially for an album with that particular title). It’s not particularly harsh, Flexor sings on-key, and the result is something that’s surprisingly fun, something for goth kids to bop to, something willing to glimpse at the darker, grimier side of the “new new wave” while maintaining a charming irreverence. In short, anyone into dance music who’s willing to take the comical grimace that Flexor’s sporting on the cover with a grain of salt will probably have a grand time indeed.
Codec & Flexor - Time Has Changed