If nothing else, Factory Floor has lived up to its name and whatever associations that stem from it. Hyped to the hilt, the so-called post-industrial trio has set its own lofty goals, its very moniker all but asking to be included in a tradition that would connect Factory Floor to Joy Division, New Order, and the Hacienda scene. To add to the mystique of a band only now releasing its first full-length after a string of well-received and appetite-whetting singles and EPs, Factory Floor signed on with DFA Records, a more contemporary point of reference for its angular, punk-minded electro aesthetic. But in a purely descriptive sense, the name Factory Floor literally speaks to the mechanically precise way the group churns out its experimental dance sound. Perhaps the industrial connotations of its earlier releases aren’t quite as apparent on the long-awaited self-titled debut, but you can still hear the gears grind on Factory Floor as glitchy melodies and drilling rhythms do their work against a dark, vacuum-tight backdrop.
Indeed, repetition and efficiency are the operative terms that define Factory Floor’s philosophy, as the threesome wrings out maximum effect out of minimal moves. Appropriately enough, the opening section of the leadoff track “Turn It Up” sets the tone for what follows, as a hammered drum beat starts things off, then gives way to a rat-a-tat rhythm program and a morse-code keyboard line. It’s the in-and-out-of-phase combinations of the different patterns Gabriel Gurnsey’s drums and Dominic Butler’s synths pursue that create a sense of structure, almost like a tit-for-tat back-and-forth between machines doing their own thing at the same time. As the interaction between the elements picks up with each turn of the cycles, the composition gains steam and reaches critical mass, holding you in its thrall by simply keeping on keeping on. Likewise, “How You Say” gets more and more insinuating over time, earworming its way into your subconscious as static-clung keyboard refrains rub against snapped, stuttering percussion.
It’s when Factory Floor figures out how to create repetition with a difference that the album is at its most evocative and innovative, riffing off and building on the group’s influences by deconstructing their signature moves into their bare, distilled essences—maybe that’s why Factory Floor is tagged as post-industrial, in the way it takes apart then reassembles parts. On the relentless “Fall Back”, you at once notice how New Order is one of Factory Floor’s most obvious referents as well as how the newcomers never take their inspiration too literally or in too rote a way: the keyboard lines have a jittery tunefulness to them à la New Order, but there’s a hardness to them that turns melody into churning, surprisingly insistent rhythms. And with its distant boy-girl vocals, another point of comparison that “Fall Back” suggests would be contemporaries the xx, if only that act’s dark atmospherics were given a sharper edge and its slow-burning desire were steeled from sentimentality. Even more impressive is “Here Again”, which takes Kraftwerk-like synths then strips them of their radiating neon-like quality, drawing out a dark, dry tone from them. And yet, “Here Again” also finds Factory Floor at its most viscerally charged, making room for Nik Colk Void’s processed, almost R&B-ish vocals to add a sensuous dimension that more of wouldn’t hurt the album.
Of course, it’s a fine line to tread between laser-focused play with repetition and lost-in-your-head redundancy, which Factory Floor not surprisingly lapses into here and there, given their m.o. Even though the tracks are almost always intricately rendered and well executed, the blueprint doesn’t feel so original as Factory Floor chugs on, the same elements—especially the signature DFA rhythmic play—being somewhat overused and overdone over the course of the album. Save for “Work Out”, which bounces rapid-fire beats off buoyant blobs of synths to bring in a lighter, almost humorous tenor to the album, a sense of samey-ness that’s not by design can’t help but peek through, as the pacing of the tracks and the individual rhythm parts don’t vary enough when you’re looking at the bigger picture. By the time you reach the closer “Breathe In”, Factory Floor is running on fumes, slowing down and fizzling out as none of its components can generate enough momentum or inject any new energy to end on a high note.
It might be a bit odd to say that a debut effort already sounds old hat, but that’s what Factory Floor kind of feels like the more you get into it and the more it begins to repeat after itself. Still, there’s plenty to suggest that Factory Floor has only scratched the surface of what it’s capable of, something the short pieces that buffer the longer compositions hint at. On these, Factory Floor shows some more tools that could’ve been more fruitfully deployed here and developed in the future, whether it’s Void’s echoing, free-form guitar on “Two” or the minimalist melodies of “Three”. Not so much interludes or tossed-off experiments, they offer Factory Floor new directions to go in that break from the patterns the group has already mastered as it’s just starting up.