Artist: VNV Nation
CD title: Transnational
Label: Virtual Label
Release Date: November 19th, 2013
Genre: EBM, Industrial
Word of the day: gravitas.
VNV Nation’s new full-length album Transnational brought this word to mind again, an adjective commonly assigned to dour and serious-faced news reporters from the scene of disaster or scandal.
Given that VNV Nation has been a fixture in the electronic music scene for over twenty years, it’s hardly surprising when they come in with a little deliberate bombast; but VNV Nation has done it with appropriate aplomb. Most assuredly aware of their status in the history and development of the dark electronic music scene, VNV Nation would be justified in treating Transnational as a sort of closing argument to the thesis of their discography.
“Generator” opens the disc, greeting the listener with a lengthy, simple electronic track sans vocals. The pacing is slow and deliberate, and upon first listen you expect it to break into a complete song at every eight count. It carries nicely on its own, although it’s more of a tease than a complete musical expression in its own right.
As it is, however, it serves as an apt lead-in that leads weight to “Everything”. The two songs seem merged into one nearly ten-minute electronic excursion; and the results are delightful. The rhythm and fills are flawlessly placed, and Ronan Harris’ vocals are sublime and earnest. This is one of the most skillfully constructed songs on the album, and it deserves first billing as it sets the mood for the disc perfectly. VNV Nation is here, so pay attention.
“Primary” is a little less exciting at first, failing to catch as strongly early on as “Everything”, but the chorus grabs your attention back. I get the feeling that I should probably like this song better than I do, because there’s lots of good about it; the keys that lead into the bridge at 1:10 are expertly crafted and timed, and serve as a strong rhythm without overwhelming the sound texture. The isolated kickdrum between the chorus and the second verse keeps the song danceable. I’m not sure why I couldn’t hook to this song, but your mileage will probably vary.
The album comes back with a bang when the snare hits at :15 in “Retaliate”, but the verse vocals prove to be a little more tonally circular and unresolved more frequently than I’d like. Nonetheless, the brief pause at 1:19 is a slap in the face if your attention has gone elsewhere, and the instrumental at 2:09 is well constructed. The chorus vocals, while roughly similar to the verse vocals, correspond nicely this time to the chord progression underneath, and the slightly nontraditional song arrangement is refreshing. In the end, it works.
“Lost Horizon” lends to the theme of gravitas, opening with a synth pattern over what sounds like a synthesized vocal choir (although please don’t quote me on that). The song picks up briefly, then slows again, and soon it becomes evident that “Lost Horizon” is very nearly two separate songs joined together at the hip; one ethereal and slow, the other a pounding rhythm, both sutured together with the same synth line. As it is, it seems more of an interlude than a song of its own right.
“Teleconnect Pt. 1” is a slow, meandering song that sacrifices tension and energy for an almost pastoral review of decades past. It is wistful and sentimental, but never stands out strongly by any measure, and I drifted while listening. Perhaps that was its intent, after all.
Eight bars of a lovely piano rhythm opens “If I Was”, which unfortunately is overwhelmed by a simpler synth riff. A key pattern is layered over the top of that after eight more bars, however, and the song picks back up right then. While Ronan’s vocals are a bit nasal as they are precluded to be, they are nonetheless very competently executed here, and strike a satisfying balance between strict adherence to the music and emotive expression. The lyrics are engaging and enthusiastic, and are given plenty of room to work, particularly above the isolated piano rhythm later in the song.
The intro to “Aeroscope” is expertly mixed, giving the listener plenty of headspace and motion on the squirming sound effects before the hard kickdrum comes in. Catchy synth hooks cycle in and out throughout the song, though once again the lack of vocals leave me wanting more. The breakdown at 2:45 is a nice change of pace, however, and gives the song a bit of additional life. A song like “Aeroscape” seems almost written strictly for the dance floor, of course, and I can’t fault its inclusion on Transnational, but I do feel like the song begs for vocals of some sort, even if not necessarily of the type VNV Nation is accustomed to producing.
“Off Screen” seems a return to natural form for VNV Nation, and the song jumps right into the meat of the song without much time dribbled away on a lengthy lead-in. While I don’t feel that it’s much of a stretch to assume an Assemblage 23 fan would listen to VNV Nation as well, “Off Screen” seems particularly suited to comparison. For some reason the chord progressions, synth leads, and vocal writing seem very similar to Shear’s work for Assemblage 23, and replacing Ronan on vocals with Tom for this track would effectively result in a pretty good Assemblage 23 track. Irrespective of the stylistic similarities, this is one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album in its own right, with a head-bobbing rhythm that comes and goes as it pleases and is always correct in doing so.
“Teleconnect Pt. 2” is a lengthy, and somewhat dull, instrumental capped with a refrain of the theme from “Teleconnect Pt. 1”. The instrumental section is almost tidal, glacial in its slow change, and doesn’t seem to attempt much besides to serve as an outro. I was left a little confused by this direction.
In the end, Transnational stands as a very good album. The lengthy instrumental pieces would probably serve a more dedicated VNV Nation fan, or a club dancer, better than the average synthpop listener. Still, good music stands on its own merit; and by that measure of judgment, Transnational wants for nothing. Worth buying.
Take a Listen: Everything
|< Prev||Next >|