[28 March 2005]
The assembly of a remix album must seem like such a foolproof plan to the artists and labels involved in such a venture—if an artist remixes a pile of other bands, and then compiles all of those remixes on a single CD, not only do you sell to fans of the artist doing the mixing, but you pull in the diehards of all the bands that chose to be mixed as well. And for a band like CEOXiME, an electro-industrial two-piece that has enough clout to release music on such genre-specific labels as Invisible and DBSP (but hasn’t pulled enough interest as to make any discernable footprint on the scene) the plan works. hEADaCHE, CEOXiME’s programming half, has done a pile of remix work for bands like Collide, Croc Shop, and Slick Idiot, and the best of those remixes are compiled on Fully Automated: The hEADaCHE re:mixes, released on hEADaCHE’s own Uncoiled Loops label.
hEADaCHE’s programming style is one of “broken beats”; that is, not “breakbeats” per se, but the homemade, heavily processed, and meticulously programmed style of beats that owes much of its existence to Aphex Twin’s I Care Because You Do. It’s a difficult task to apply such a programming style to the typically heavily structured feel of most modern day electro-industrial and EBM, but hEADaCHE does a worthy job, forcing his beats into loops that are almost always a significant step up from the uninspired drum work they are replacing. Indeed, if there is a problem to be found on Fully Automated, it’s not hEADaCHE himself; it’s everyone who happens to be surrounding him.
When Ministry went platinum with Psalm 69, the album’s massive popularity along with the constant critical acclaim of Skinny Puppy inspired a sudden glut of the sincerest form of flattery—cheap imitations of those bands appeared by the hundreds. Most of these acts employed harsh beats, some form of synthesized melody, and whispered/shouted vocals heavy on the distortion. Since that initial boom, the limitations of such a style have been made painfully obvious by those bands that refuse to stretch into areas outside their niche, and the popularity of the style began to wane, eventually leaving very few of those imitators standing, creating their art for quickly diminishing audiences.
Where Fully Automated falters is in the fact that it’s the duplication types of bands that hEADaCHE finds himself remixing. Diverje, Hypoid and the newly synth-poppy Croc Shop are bands borne of a scene, bands that try their damnedest to make the synths/beats/distorted vocals formula work as well as it can, but never quite take that formula outside its designated boundaries. A hEADaCHE remix like that of Noxious Emotion’s “Mystery of Life” is pretty neat to listen to, but it loses steam once the lyrics make themselves known: “A strange ideal / The breeding grounds / People in crowds…” and on and on. Words like “analysis”, “gene pool”, and “dominate” get tossed around like so much chicken feed, mostly in heavily distorted male vocals. It becomes hard to tell whether standout tracks like Collide’s “Wings of Steel” and LiveSexAct’s “Autopilot” are standouts because they’re actually good songs, or simply because female vocals represent a refreshing change of pace on an album like this.
Of course, that would be a plausible theory if the final track, a bonus CEOXiME cover of Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film)”, were worth listening to at all. Again, hEADaCHE’s programming comes through in spades, providing washes of sound and a slowly building-in-tension wall of electronic beeps, gurgles, and beats—it’s vocalist Tatiana that can’t hold it together. Occasionally out of tune and always a little too deadpan, particularly in the climactic finale, Tatiana doesn’t even come close to matching the sense of drama that hEADaCHE manages to build behind her. It’s telling that the strongest track on Fully Automated is one where there are no vocals at all, a high-powered remix of function13’s “Odoreater”. Given that it’s purely instrumental nature blurs the lines between what the source material was and what hEADaCHE contributed, it’s impossible to get stuck on the possible inadequacy of function13’s original.
hEADaCHE is, by all means, a talented programmer. Here’s hoping that on his next release, he finds someone to work with that can live up to his own high standards.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/headache-fully/