Wires Under Tension toss us into a world of majestic, neon-lit intensity that is, as the album title suggests, oddly familiar.
There is a sense of anticipation that is created in the opening moments of Wires Under Tension’s new record Replicant. It is difficult to build tension this early in a record when the listener does not even really known what they are anticipating, but the good folks over at Wires Under Tension pull it off. When the storm clouds finally coalesce and the affective, unsettling introductory vocal sample reaches its conclusion we are plunged into big, showy world of loops, strings, and electronic melody that is both insistent and comfortable. The driving force behind all of this is clearly percussionist Theo Metz; his banging and clanging anchor the rest of the auditory barrage, giving it purpose and groove. Amidst all of the tinkling, squawking, and wooshing, vocal samples dart in and out of these tracks like friendly voices in the mind of someone in the throes of a not all-together unpleasant psychotic episode. These tracks are driving and persistent; they continue pushing forward, giving the listener precious little time to catch her breath. This is big, dramatic music, but fun and inviting at the same time.
Now there is really no getting around the fact that the two gentlemen who comprise Wires Under Tension wear their influences on their sleeves. I am going to identify three major influences that, for me at least, are unavoidably apparent on Replicant: Battles, Tortoise, and Until the Dawn Heals Us era M83. Battles bequeath to Wires Under Tension their bouncy, booming, percussive sense of joy and playfulness. There are numerous jazzy breakdowns and moments of loopy vertigo that remind the listener unmistakably of the mighty, much-beloved Tortoise. The M83 influence can be felt most clearly in the atmospheric vocal samples and the sweeping, epic electronic landscapes that make the listener feel as if she is soaring above some majestic cyber-punk landscape, not unlike the opening scene to Blade Runner, which was apparently a major inspiration to this particular piece of work.
Indeed, Replicant sometimes feels like an all-too appropriate title of this album; there are a few too many moments on this record that sound like someone else, and not quite enough that sound distinctly like Wires Under Tension. This feels like one of those “work in progress” type of albums where a talented band or musician is still learning to assimilate their influences without imitating them too slavishly. Most really great bands put out at least one or two records like this before really nailing their sound and defining themselves, including most of the bands mentioned above. I actually really dig Replicant; if I were a gambling man and there were betting parlors dorky enough to bet on such things, I would put money down on the premise that Wires Under Tension’s follow up to Replicant packs a much more distinctive punch than its predecessor. There is also a '90s hip-hop, IDM sort of vibe going on here, not unlike Plaid or Fridge or even DJ Shadow. It is important to note that I am a big fan of pretty much all of the influences that I have identified here; I would bet that my music collection and the collections of the boys in Wires Under Tension have some distinct similarities.
Music like this sometimes takes itself way too seriously and ends up being dull and pretentious. Replicant is playful, pretty, and never boring. The fact that Wires Under Tension are a duo makes this record even more impressive; they do a great deal without the benefits of a full band. So once Wires Under Tension put away their favorite records for awhile, head back to the rehearsal space, and pound out some tracks that really refine their sound, they will be the ones doing the influencing.