Future Bible Heroes: The Lonely Robot

Margaret Schwartz

Future Bible Heroes

The Lonely Robot

Label: Instinct
US Release Date: 2003-01-21
UK Release Date: Available as import

Last August, Future Bible Heroes released Eternal Youth, a collection of wittily-worded, '80s flashback synth-pop numbers. The Lonely Robot is a seven-song EP of remixes from Eternal Youth by an all-star cast of DJs, engineers, and producers, plus two new songs. Considering that Future Bible Heroes is one of Stephin Merritt's brainchildren, it's not surprising that the man who wrote 69 love songs each more spooky and disarming than the next was able to call in favors from electropop's A-list: Soft Cell; indie pioneer and Mute records founder, Daniel Miller (Depeche Mode and Goldfrapp, among others, released on Mute in the '80s); Gareth Jones, who produced Depeche Mode, Einsturzende Neubauten, and Erasure; London-based duo Client; and NYC-based house producer Rob Rives, who had the cajones to remix Kraftwork (his is the remix of "The World Is a Disco Ball"). On this album, Magnetic Fields drummer/keyboardist Claudia Gonson lends her voice to Merritt's always stellar lyrics.

It's hard to describe a remix album without referring back to the original, but The Lonely Robot would be a stand-alone great even without the contrast to Eternal Youth. What's amazing is that the new take brings a retro album into the present, without making it sound at all self-referential or pretentiously ironic. This is club music for today; it just also happens to be intelligent and witty -- something that I couldn't really say about the latest top-of-the-pops "club remix".

There are three remixes of "Loosing Your Affection", a twisted nursery rhyme of a love song (sample lyric: "I would rather rub the hair of a bear in a lair in the opposite direction / I would rather put the make on a rattlesnake than be loosing your affection"), each unique. The first, by Client, throws in some fuzz-heavy bass and slows the beat down, giving the whimsical lyrics a menacing edge. Of course, you already have Claudia Gonson's gender-bending voice uttering lyrics like "I would rather be the queen at the guillotine in a bloody insurrection". The ending lightens things up with an arpeggio synth line, and the overall feel gets more spacey and less funky as a high reverb "loosing your affection" loops over strings.

To me, this remix is the best because it is constantly stripping itself down and relayering itself, and at the bottom is always that funky, fuzzy bass: relentless, brilliant. Whenever the layers are stripped bare, you get the same bass fuzz, and then new elements weave another sound tapestry.

The Sunroof remix of "Loosing Your Affection" is also stripped-down and bass heavy, but it quickly segues, beginning with bottle-tapping and building with a number of eerily organic sounds into some kind of punch-card symphony.

The Soft Cell mix is by far the longest on the album, clocking in at over eight minutes, and beginning with the kind of electro-wash tremulousness that always screams teenage melodrama to me (think of the way Yaz was used in the film The Chocolate War). Claudia's voice sounds the most processed and robotic (but in a cool way) in this remix; it is by far the lightest, fastest mix, peppered with light synth fills (if you can call them that) and pegged to a syncopated, very 21st century beat.

But these are just the remixes of one song. "I'm a Vampire," by far the cleverest, both lyrically and musically, on Eternal Youth, gets an update from its original doo-wop, "Leader of the Pack" feel. Now there's another layer of retro: if the original evoked the fifties the way, say, the John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John Grease did (that is, from the perspective of the swinging '70s), the remix seems to be a 2003 re-imagining of the kind of proto-rapping Debbie Harry did on "Rapture". Neither of these comparisons do much justice; it's just a way of showing that these people know what they are doing, and are in fact juggling and reordering so many layers of irony that it's dizzying!

Besides the "Losing Your Affection" remixes, which demonstrate the album's range, and "I'm a Vampire", which is just hilarious and smart and toe-tapping good, the EP features a new song, "The Lonely Robot". It is a sort of futuristic fairy tale about a robot who has "ended all life, absorbed all other robots" -- hence her loneliness. So she creates a world out of memories of movies; but this too bores her, because she already knows the ending. She changes the rules so that anything can happen, "But the actors can't believe that, so they keep pretending the script is real, and means things". Frustrated, the lonely robot erases the whole world and "A trillion stories all came abruptly to a non-ending", finally offering our circuit-based cosmic heroine the gift of non-existence. The lyrics are spoken in a kind of mythical tone while the synth lines echo in an ethereal soundscape, absurd as the world of light and broken memories the lonely robot makes to soothe herself. It is both a touching and a hilarious song; both tongue-in-cheek and deadpan sincere.

"The Lonely Robot" is a fitting ending for the EP: it seems to sum up the remixes retro-futurism and take it one step further. The Eternal Youth remixes have a certain teenage melancholy in those melodious, tremulous synth lines, an emotional distance that the synthesizer no longer symbolizes, now that we've got all these other techno gewgaws (and our synths sound so much "realer"). Our world is much closer to the one "The Lonely Robot" both celebrates and warns against: seamlessly technological and organic, ironic and sincere, past and future.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.