At a time when every musician from the past is jumping on the DJ bandwagon (Boy George, Perry Farrell, heck—even Fatboy Slim used to be Britpop), Richard Devine is looking into the future. The way-the-hell-far-off future. A future with giant, skyscraper-tall combat robots engaged in a dance of machinery. Or so Devine’s press release says. It also informs me that Devine’s sounds “spiral around one another like complex DNA helix strands hinged together in a grid-like lattice. Never competing, never repeating the same phrase.” Frankly, after reading that page-and-a-half stroke session, I was poised to write off Devine as one stupid and pretentious SOB. There was just one money-wrench in my plan: Devine has enough talent to walk the talk. Lipswitch does indeed provide a glimpse into a dark, machine-dominated future, and does a damn good job at it. That’s right, kids: an artist has actually managed to live up to his overblown press release.
Lipswitch is a 40-minute ride through beeps, whirs, clicks, thuds and various other machine sounds. It may just sound like a bunch of noise at first, but upon closer listening, layers upon layers of rhythm emerge, as Devine uses short burst of sound to compose pieces that are far more complex than the typical electronic number. And while there is some repetition, the pieces are almost constantly evolving and changing—a definite break from the repetitious nature of most techno albums. “Resource Leak”, an eerie and—dare I say it—ambient track, sets the dark and futuristic tone, pulling the listener slowly into the world of giant machines. From there, Devine takes an inventory of the various robots and their functions, through songs like “Patelle”, “Route Increment”, “Swap Trigger” and so on. While the machinery sounds don’t vary much from piece to piece, the way they are combined and employed are constantly changing, so that while the dances of the “Kepter” and the “Scatter Fold 28” (giant combat tanks and small, insect-like robots, respectively) have much in common, they have their own distinct movements as well. While it’s not necessary to know the whole robot spiel in order to appreciate Devine’s talent, it is sort of entertaining to figure out how the sounds on “Swap Trigger”, for example, correspond with the robots’ sonic weapon systems.
For all of the talent and imagination put into this project, however, Lipswitch is not necessarily an enjoyable album—at least not in the same sense as catchier, more dance-driven electronic albums. For all the complexity (or maybe because of it), it just isn’t very easy to sit through 40 minutes of crunching, rapid-fire robot sounds. And don’t even think about buying this as a dance album, all you raver kids: this is the kind of stuff the Autobots might groove to, but not anyone of flesh and blood. And while I’m piling on the words of caution, you better have a good stereo system or a decent pair of headphones in order to listen to this stuff. It’s an interesting experience on my headphones; in my crappy car stereo it’s an almost unbearable jumble of sound. “But Mr. Kent-Stoll, didn’t you spend the first couple of paragraphs talking about how darn spiffy this album is?” I sure did, Timmy, but I want the people to understand that this ain’t no catchy Fatboy Slim-type of album. This is complex, challenging stuff—something to push your brain around when you need a little change of pace. And yes, for all the fine print I’m attaching, this is an impressive work. That’s positive enough, right? Now maybe Mr. Devine can stop training that laser cannon at my head.