Strategy: Future Rock

Strategy's vision of "future rock", it seems, derives its vocals from the vocoders of Kraftwerk, its ambience from the kraut of Can, and its groove from the spaceship Funkadelic.


Future Rock

Label: Kranky
US Release Date: 2007-05-22
UK Release Date: 2007-05-07

After titling an album that bordered on ambience Drumsolo's Delight merely four short years ago (you'd better believe there was nothing even approaching a "drum solo" on that album), it only stands to reason that Strategy's newest offering would throw us another curveball via its title.

Future Rock is the name of this latest Strategy (née Paul Dickow) album, and actually, for an album with such a forward-leaning title, it sure does have a tendency to look back. Dickow's vision of future rock, it seems, derives its vocals from the vocoders of Kraftwerk, its ambience from the kraut of Can, and its groove from the spaceship Funkadelic. It's as if Paul Dickow is offering the definition of future rock circa 1975, like those looks toward the year 2000 from that era that had us all driving flying cars and taking pills in lieu of enjoying meals by now. The electronic programming work is really the only thing on Future Rock that sounds at all futuristic, and heck, we've had programmed beats and bleeps and bloops for years now.

Futuristic or not, however, Dickow manages to make the combination of influences he's assembled on Future Rock work, fusing this array of styles into something that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. For one, the sheer number of elements that show up throughout the album result in an incredibly lush sound, simultaneously minimalist (as evidenced by the constant repetition of certain elements) and mad scientist, as he tosses myriad elements together just praying for a reaction. It's an approach that serves him best on the brilliant title track, a nine-minute slow-burn that bases its variation around a static, never-changing chord used as a rhythmic device. The actual drum sounds are pretty standard fare, an easy little beat only there to set the stage, but it's that chord, shifting in and out of syncopation, layering rhythms on top of rhythms, that draws all the attention. There's a funky little bassline, there are these ghostly synths floating around in the background that are actually responsible for the chord changes in the song, and still... that rhythmic chord, placed right in front of the mix, is what compels us to pay attention. It's utterly fascinating listening to a song wind itself around such a static element, and that's exactly what "Future Rock" does.

It's those ghostly background synths, however, that define Future Rock as a whole. From the very first moments of "Can't Roll Back", we hear them there in the background, even as Dickow is doing his best Brian Eno on the vocal end and an electric guitar is fluttering around in the foreground. Barely noticeable, they are what make these songs sound so lush. They're the reason "Can't Roll Back" will inevitably described as "atmospheric" more often than it's described as boring, and they're the reason "Red Screen" holds comfort within its defiant dissonance. It's utterly (and probably intentionally) disconcerting when they disappear, as on "Stops Spinning", where a gently pulsing, cleanly-produced keyboard takes their place.

And then, just when you think you've got a handle on the album, Dickow pulls out the exact inverse of those ghostly synths for the three minutes of "Sunfall", turning multi-tracked drones into piercing chords, thick, glassy walls of sound meant to push the ears and allow the listener a moment of clarity before diving back into the swamp of "Red Screen".

So, it seems that while there may not actually be anything immediately futuristic about Future Rock (heck, even its cover art looks like that of a late '70s punk album), it is a masterfully put together album, weilding its ingredients like a master chef and venturing into various related genres with utter confidence. Very little of it is immediately ear-catching, but it's the sort of album that can slowly work its way into your consciousness, eventually winning you over with its mood and its ambition. Kranky has another winner on its hands, with a Future we should all want to be a part of.





In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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