High Level Static - Carrier Waves
Futurepop, Synthpop My main memory of 'Shining', the first High Level Static album released in 2003, was a track called "Shine (Four Words)". Musically, it was the usual European trance/synthpop/EBM thing we used to call 'futurepop', but the track utilised some interesting turns of phrase. It's something of a factor when bands write in English as their second language that they often tread the fine line between 'trite' and 'inspired', and this song ticked all the boxes. I therefore set about listening to their latest recording with sincere hopes that lightning could possibly strike twice.

And once we got past the fluttering synths, Steven Hawking samples and movie clips of "Prana", there was indeed a return to High Level Static's rather unique command of the English language on 'Thoughtforms I'. The opening lines "I Have A Gift For You, But I Don't Think You'll Like It" is hardly memorable, but as the soaring chorus strings join the mix, the lyricism becomes more and more inspired, finishing on a "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" reference that is nothing if not charming.

I say this as "I Am Beneath Your Skin" is just a succession of lyrical clichés backed by the usual mid-tempo thump, succession of arpeggios and filter-swept chords. It's standard issue futurepop of the most tedious variety. "Psygon" uses much the same techniques, but it's uptempo nature actually results in an improved song, the various synth parts coalescing well to drive the song onward through it's duration, even if the end result is something that is technically sound but lacking in any real spark.

The tempos stay high for 'Eloise', which I was pleased to find was not a Damned cover (let's face it, that would NEVER have worked), but the song they deliver is just a dull assault of kick drums, yet-more throbbing synths and vocals buried so deep in the mix that it actually took me three listens to work out that it wasn't a cover after all. And that's too many times. More interesting is "FTL Drive", an enjoyable enough mix of power chords, samples and various cybernetic bleeps and burbles.

"Energy Drain" finally sees High Level Static leave their preferred four-beat behind and program something more breakbeat-oriented, whilst retaining the trancey synth parts. It was certainly an interesting experiment, but the various elements of the song just didn't always sound like they were intended for the same song. Then comes 'Blade Runner', which isn't as exciting as it sounds - a reasonable Eurosynthpop composition, sure, but with lyrics so generic that I couldn't tell if the song was about the movie, the book or Oscar Pistorius, though the overused Roy Batty sample at the end hints it's probably a cinematic reference. Maybe the point with lyrics so generic is that the song can be about whatever you damn well please?

"Ghosts (Inside)" is the last track of note on the album, making good use of a chiptune lead and a more confident vocal performance, this pairing guaranteeing that this song at least needs to be heard again. After that the album never recovers, with "Wounded" proving that High Level Static just can't do the 'slow and menacing' concept that is required once on every album of this style to provide the necessary variation in 'feel' to prevent monotony creeping in (Hint: It already has. Long ago).

"Tone Tron" is three minutes of synth pulses, spoken word vocals and various snatches of ear candy that should have sounded interesting but never really achieves much. "Vorax" makes another attempt at programming an aggressive breakbeat, but once again the song comes across as a conceptual mish-mash, hopping from idea to idea without ever really letting anything develop. "Thoughforms II" bears some musical similarity to it's sibling track earlier on the album, but the synth programming is less inspired here, and is hence a lesser track. This just leaves quasi-classical outro "01:12" - nice try, but I'm afraid VNV Nation were ending albums like this as far back as the mid-90s.

So, in summary this is a disappointing showing for a project that really should have advanced its sound more than it has in the past eight years. Of the fourteen tracks here, I'd say I'd only return to "Thoughforms I" and "Ghosts (Inside)", with at most three others I could listen to again without getting bored in the first 30 seconds. Or to paraphrase my favourite High Level Static song from the first album....."Four Simple Words - I Love You Not".
2
Brutal Resonance

High Level Static - Carrier Waves

My main memory of 'Shining', the first High Level Static album released in 2003, was a track called "Shine (Four Words)". Musically, it was the usual European trance/synthpop/EBM thing we used to call 'futurepop', but the track utilised some interesting turns of phrase. It's something of a factor when bands write in English as their second language that they often tread the fine line between 'trite' and 'inspired', and this song ticked all the boxes. I therefore set about listening to their latest recording with sincere hopes that lightning could possibly strike twice.

And once we got past the fluttering synths, Steven Hawking samples and movie clips of "Prana", there was indeed a return to High Level Static's rather unique command of the English language on 'Thoughtforms I'. The opening lines "I Have A Gift For You, But I Don't Think You'll Like It" is hardly memorable, but as the soaring chorus strings join the mix, the lyricism becomes more and more inspired, finishing on a "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" reference that is nothing if not charming.

I say this as "I Am Beneath Your Skin" is just a succession of lyrical clichés backed by the usual mid-tempo thump, succession of arpeggios and filter-swept chords. It's standard issue futurepop of the most tedious variety. "Psygon" uses much the same techniques, but it's uptempo nature actually results in an improved song, the various synth parts coalescing well to drive the song onward through it's duration, even if the end result is something that is technically sound but lacking in any real spark.

The tempos stay high for 'Eloise', which I was pleased to find was not a Damned cover (let's face it, that would NEVER have worked), but the song they deliver is just a dull assault of kick drums, yet-more throbbing synths and vocals buried so deep in the mix that it actually took me three listens to work out that it wasn't a cover after all. And that's too many times. More interesting is "FTL Drive", an enjoyable enough mix of power chords, samples and various cybernetic bleeps and burbles.

"Energy Drain" finally sees High Level Static leave their preferred four-beat behind and program something more breakbeat-oriented, whilst retaining the trancey synth parts. It was certainly an interesting experiment, but the various elements of the song just didn't always sound like they were intended for the same song. Then comes 'Blade Runner', which isn't as exciting as it sounds - a reasonable Eurosynthpop composition, sure, but with lyrics so generic that I couldn't tell if the song was about the movie, the book or Oscar Pistorius, though the overused Roy Batty sample at the end hints it's probably a cinematic reference. Maybe the point with lyrics so generic is that the song can be about whatever you damn well please?

"Ghosts (Inside)" is the last track of note on the album, making good use of a chiptune lead and a more confident vocal performance, this pairing guaranteeing that this song at least needs to be heard again. After that the album never recovers, with "Wounded" proving that High Level Static just can't do the 'slow and menacing' concept that is required once on every album of this style to provide the necessary variation in 'feel' to prevent monotony creeping in (Hint: It already has. Long ago).

"Tone Tron" is three minutes of synth pulses, spoken word vocals and various snatches of ear candy that should have sounded interesting but never really achieves much. "Vorax" makes another attempt at programming an aggressive breakbeat, but once again the song comes across as a conceptual mish-mash, hopping from idea to idea without ever really letting anything develop. "Thoughforms II" bears some musical similarity to it's sibling track earlier on the album, but the synth programming is less inspired here, and is hence a lesser track. This just leaves quasi-classical outro "01:12" - nice try, but I'm afraid VNV Nation were ending albums like this as far back as the mid-90s.

So, in summary this is a disappointing showing for a project that really should have advanced its sound more than it has in the past eight years. Of the fourteen tracks here, I'd say I'd only return to "Thoughforms I" and "Ghosts (Inside)", with at most three others I could listen to again without getting bored in the first 30 seconds. Or to paraphrase my favourite High Level Static song from the first album....."Four Simple Words - I Love You Not". Sep 06 2012

Jonny Hall

info@brutalresonance.com
Writer and contributor on Brutal Resonance

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