There are a few moments on Chrome Tape when both Jane Motoro and Marco Poloroid push the ‘mute’ button on their vocal cords. It is in these moments that Motormark’s only relationship with the popular music landscape of 2005 comes into view—moments when it sounds like Motormark’s brand of abrasive dance-rock might just sit somewhat comfortably beside bands like Franz Ferdinand and Interpol. Dance beats abound, repetitive guitar lines are all over the place, and there are stray electronic noises to keep the nostalgia freaks listening.
Then Jane and Marco show up, and the similarities disappear.
Chrome Tape is Motormark’s first album for Alec Empire’s Digital Hardcore label, and it’s hard to avoid the impression that they’d just love for all of us to think of Motormark as the second coming of Atari Teenage Riot. They alternate between Jane Motoro’s flat-out yelling and Marco Poloroid’s Fred Schneider-meets-Alex Kapranos swagger, they don’t mind tossing guitars in the mix, their tempos usually stay a shade above “breakneck”, and they combine electronic composition with punk irreverence. Much as I’d love to call it a sure-fire recipe for success, however, I’m let down by the end product, perhaps most by the fact that while Motormark have the ingredients and the energy, they fall short in the execution.
Most egregiously, the drum programming on Chrome Tape is awful. I’m all for the DIY punk ethic, and I don’t have any sort of aversion to drum machines, but this is just terrible. It would seem that the Motormark template for drum programming requires all eighth note hi hats, quarter note bass drums, and a distorted snare on beats two and four of every measure. Push the ‘loop’ button, pick a speed, and you’re done. Programmed drums can be so much more than robotic mechanisms for keeping time! For God’s sake, put some effort into those beats! Less serious is the guitar work, which is still basic and a bit boneheaded, but again, it’s doubtful that masterful licks were high on the agenda for this particular duo. Still, a touch more effort might have been nice.
That said, Chrome Tape gets by on pure spunk. The energy that Jane and Marco put into the music is palpable, and it liberally bleeds out of the speakers playing it. Each of Jane’s screams is a rebel yell, a call to action, though exactly what she’d like to do (besides be totally badass) is unclear. Alternately, Marco takes the mic and a new energy is found, one that wallows in anger and despair, channeling more Peter Murphy than Alec Empire. The juxtaposition of the two vocalists is nice, as it provides some sorely needed variety to the disc—after listening to Jane yell “We are the public!” 24 times and “I’m about to do something that I’m gonna regret!” 31 times (in the songs of the same names, of course), it’s refreshing and almost comforting to listen to Marco sing about being “cursed” and feeling like he’s “having a heart attack”.
Also impressive is what happens when Motormark slows down the pace. Jane gets to show off her not-all-that-bad singing (as opposed to yelling) voice, and when the pace isn’t so frenetic, the electronics are allowed to flourish, rather than become an afterthought in the wake of the sub-par beats and guitars. There’s nothing as startlingly melodic as, say, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps”, but final tracks “Anti Me” and “Flow Chart” are welcome cool-downs after the exhausting trip of the rest of the disc.
So really, as much as it’s tempting to completely despise Chrome Tape given the utter lack of actual talent on display, you have to hand it to a band who’s willing to try to get by on adrenaline, slogans, and silly song titles (like, say, “That’s What You Say When You Want Me to Kill You”). They’ve even got a nifty-keen catchy single in “Eat Drink Sleep Think”, a song that’ll burrow into your head and give you night sweats via bad dreams about goth clubs. Mostly, this is music to annoy your friends and colleagues with, but for that, it’s charming.