Nathalie Bruno had a revelation or two that lead to Symbiosis, her first full length under the Drift. moniker. In the past, the London-based artist helped create and re-mix songs awash in synthesized textures with her trio Phosphor. Bruno added her voice to Belgium’s Luminance and their brand of 1980s-influenced dancey synthpop, and, as Drift., delivered a handful of EPs that also held sweaty hands with European darkwave and catchy layers of synthesizers. Those records, all released on Italy’s Avant! label, added perfectly to their roster of abrasive, jittery dance music, sounds which are deeply rooted in early 1980s underground coldwave.
But Symbiosis shows Bruno wiping the mascara, leaving the dance floor, and striking out for solitude, occasionally dragging a few beats with her. Yet one listen to opening track “Masquerade 1” shuts that right down. Instead, we get a spidery, repeated keyboard phrase joined by what might be a bass line here, a lone guitar chime there, a gong crashing, and a synth-drone undercurrent. It lopes along creepily, the last track played by a DJ announcing the club is closing. “Human”, suggests dance with its low-end keyboard burble and cowbell but found sound, whispers, and atonal noises keep it on edge.
Symbiosis was influenced by immersive experiences listening to Broadcast and Yoko Ono, as well as Bruno stumbling upon a copy of Klaus Schwab’s 2016 book The Fourth Industrial Revolution. That’s a read that can’t help but feel a bit dystopian and isolating, even as it argues for harnessing the increasingly blurred lines between the physical and the digital. One track in particular, “The Orbit”, speaks to this new disturbing unknown we are creating. A distorted, three-note death knell drives it as repeated knocking seems to come from a dank tunnel. If it sounds bleak, it’s likely also to be therapeutic and finds common ground with the entrancing industrial thud of Throbbing Gristle or Third Eye Foundation.
Elsewhere on the album, she warns, “If you don’t get what you like, then you better like what you get.” There’s something ironic about an album that reacts to the death of privacy with self-imposed quarantine naming itself after a term defining a type of dependency based on physical proximity. Even the cover, a black and white drawing done by Jack Solomon Smith, shows Bruno, alone in a crowd, staring ahead, surrounded by faces at once futuristic and grizzled.
But then it’s perfect for an album that snips away at Bruno’s post-punk-influences and replaces them with music informed by her isolation, where the rhythms play a supporting role, and disquieting textures instead assume the center. The title track, with its repeated stuck-needle jerk, like the sound a car tire misshaped by extreme cold might make as it awkwardly lurches down a hillside, is what we’ve got to dance to here. We might as well get used to it.