Music

Doldrums: The Air Conditioned Nightmare

Doldrums' latest is a sprawling exploration of modern synthetic life through artificial drum sounds, synthesizers and Airick Woodhead’s hauntingly human voice.


Doldrums

The Air Conditioned Nightmare

Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2015-04-07
UK Release Date: 2015-04-13
Amazon
iTunes

As electronic music has further integrated into the sounds of modern rock, rap, pop, soul and even jazz, many musicians have begun to deal with a sweeping paranoia over the digital realm. Even respected electronic artists have begun engaging in a backlash against computerized society; Daft Punk, for instance, worldwide ambassadors for contemporary French house, returned to the sounds of analog disco for 2013’s Random Access Memories, their first album in eight years. Doldrums, the acclaimed musical project from producer Airick Woodhead, doesn’t go quite that far with The Air Conditioned Nightmare, but from the title alone it’s clear that the cultural fear of a cold digital world haunts even the dreams of electronic music masterminds. Ironically, his synthetic sounds get across the point of The Air Conditioned Nightmare better than he does himself.

Musically, The Air Conditioned Nightmare is bold and evocative. “HOTFOOT” suggests a rapturous return to the primordial with swampy synth bass, a shifting tribal beat and Woodhead’s sinister, technophobic lyrical plays: “If I can’t pull myself back up / I’m gonna go deeper down into the mud.” As the first single and the album’s opening track, “HOTFOOT” sets a precedent for brash electronic dance music that the rest of The Air Conditioned Nightmare mostly avoids except for the swirling industrial groove of “My Friend Simjen”, the funky disco of “Industry City” and ambient house jam “Loops”. Instead, Woodhead is more characteristically timid, especially on songs like the safely psychedelic “Blow Away” and “Video Hostage”, where he creates atmosphere by looping delicate vocal samples. Radiohead comparisons are particularly apt on songs with more subdued electronics that allow Woodhead to really explore his vocal theatricality: downbeat highlight “We Awake”, beautifully poignant closing track “Closer 2 U” and the quietly searing “Funeral for Lightning”.

Lyrically, though, Woodhead has little sense for subtlety, and the album’s unrelentingly dark and serious tone sometimes renders his lyrics ineffectual by being overly figurative, particularly with absurdly abstract phrases like “holographic Jesus” (from “Blow Away”) and “fluorescent plastic whim” (from “Funeral for Lightning”). Whatever poetic sentiment Woodhead is laboring for, the results are hit-and-miss and more often than not establish a pretentiousness otherwise not present in his smooth, accessible music. Flowery and euphemistic aren’t the worst things lyrics can be, of course, but in tackling such common themes of modern artificiality, there’s little place for further contrived sentiment.

Still, The Air Conditioned Nightmare deserves credit as a sprawling exploration of modern synthetic life through artificial drum sounds, arpeggiated synthesizers and Woodhead’s own haunting voice, the sole human element that defines the album. More than the lyricism, it’s Woodhead’s identity in the songwriting and performances that tie his thematic knots for him. Even if his subject isn’t the most novel, The Air Conditioned Nightmare bends electronic conventions in unique ways, taking the stilted balance out of modern dance music and replacing it with a menacing ambience to more nuanced effect. If the poetry of his words doesn’t match the elegance of his music, it doesn’t matter too much; the effect still lands, and Woodhead’s chilling croon over the stormy, volatile electronics he commands speaks more than his words ever could anyway.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Film

Alastair Sim: A Very English Character Actor Genius

Alastair Sim belongs to those character actors sometimes accused of "hamming it up" because they work at such a high level of internal and external technique that they can't help standing out.

Music

Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers Head "Underwater" in New Video (premiere)

Celebrating the first anniversary of Paper Castle, folksy poppers Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers release an uplifting new video for opening track, "Underwater".

Music

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's New LP Is Lacking in Songcraft but Rich in Texture

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Mosaic of Transformation is a slightly uneven listen. It generally transcends the tropes of its genre, but occasionally substitutes substance for style.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1996 Album 'All Set' Sees the Veteran Band Stretching Out and Gaining Confidence

After the straightforward and workmanlike Trade Test Transmissions, Buzzcocks continued to hone their fresh identity in the studio, as exhibited on the All Set reissue contained on the new box-set Sell You Everything.

Books

Patrick Madden's 'Disparates' Makes Sense in These Crazy Times

There's no social distancing with Patrick Madden's hilarious Disparates. While reading these essays, you'll feel like he's in the room with you.

Music

Perfume Genius Purges Himself and It's Contagious

You need to care so much about your art to pack this much meaning into not only the words, but the tones that adorn and deliver them. Perfume Genius cares so much it hurts on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.

Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump White House -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.