CD title: Hate Life
Label: Solid Grey Sky Recordings
Genre: Industrial, EBM
Her voice was smoky, sultry; the strumming of her acoustic guitar was utilitarian but accurate. She commanded the stage with the consummate presence of an experienced performer. And yet as I watched the opening act that night, I wondered why she had bothered.
Did her music need to be written? Was there something profound at hand here, in her simplistic homilies and sometimes tongue-in-cheek lyrics, that I had missed? Was there mastery in her chord progressions and finger picks, besides the mechanical motions of her fingers? Did I need to be sitting there on the hard wooden bench, wrapped up in a barely sufficient blazer and scarf in a cold tavern on the Hill, focusing on her music for its own worth?
Try as I might, I couldn't answer any of those questions. The lyrics proved banal, the music failed to catch. I didn't realize what I should be doing with her music, other than wait for it to end. Eventually it did end, and we politely clapped; and while I presume others enjoyed her performance more than I did, I was left wondering what the point of it all was.
I stifled a yawn as I made it home, AEC's Hate Life in my queue and its resident promise to wash the mundanity of uninspired folk music back to whence it came. According to the preview on the solid.grey.sky website, Hate Life was glacially assembled over a period of five years, and 'bristles with aggressive vocals, disturbing lyrics and punishing electronic beats'.
Less punishing than anticipated, the opener "Hate Life" builds gradually to a dull chorus, seeming more to be disparate parts conjoined at the hip; at 2:17 the song segues into an smooth electronica passage that seems out of place compared with the rest of the song, but ultimately proves more listenable than the verse/chorus structure itself. 'Obsession/Compulsion' drags us over the coals with a positively egregious abuse of vocal samples, a dull and plodding rhythm and an atonal, pointless direction that never materializes into something remotely resembling musicality. The marginal 'Burned Alive' picks it up a bit, and while a bit unbalanced musically, a flat song on the album can often prove to be an excellent live song; I foresee good potential for warming up a live set with "Burned Alive" as a crowd-pleasing opener.
The album spirals downward from here, however."Drug Fix" is positively dreadful; utterly uninspired lyrics overlay a trite and burgeoning soundscape that never even flirts with tension or musical resolution, segueing again instead into a completely unrelated industrial noise backdrop before at last resuming the same monotonous drone as before; and the song's last chance to morph into a memorable electronic track at the lush, late-appearing synth backing rhythm is stalled with an obnoxious, puerile vocal track. "Jealous Much?" doubles down on the puerile, and quadruples the vulgar, leaving the listener with a track that sticks in the mind for its irrhythmic invectice more than the poorly written music beneath. "Evil Inside" breathes life into the disc for a few moments with a cleverly arranged opening synth pattern, holding until Tyler Newman's limited vocals again drag the composition down. The chorus carries some musical water, and while the song never really takes off into life of its own, it's at least mildly listenable jetsam floating atop a sea of awful.
It's a shame that most of Hate Life is as dreadful as it is, because the good parts of the album range from 'moderately okay' to 'brilliant'. The very long "Freezing to Death" is rather evocative of a B-side Blutengel track, with a basic and uninspired opening key riff that finds itself quickly textured into something more listenable, and while the song doesn't approach real depths of musical expression, it does evolve into a rather slow-danceable suitable for bridging the gap between "Wreath of Barbs" and "Military Fashion Show", perhaps. Or something to that effect, anyhow.
Amid the vast swath of drek on the album, the biggest shocker in the album is the downtempo, ethereal "Echolalia". Where the hard, punk-ish attitude of AEC fails dreadfully, the soft and dreamy side succeeds extraordinarily well; and despite a slightly too-loud acid synth riff punctuating the center of the song that sometimes overwhelms Stacey P.'s dreamlike alto, the song is extremely well-crafted and incredibly listenable, and--dare I say--catchy after its own fashion? Similarly, the avant-garde "Afterlife", again seeming out of place compared to the insolence of the rest of the album, resembles an experimental throwback to the Amiga/PC demo scene days, with sparse chorus vocals in the far background underneath a complex-sounding synth arrangement. Both are excellent songs, almost worth the purchase of the album on their own. And while remixes of bad tracks never make them good, the 'Echolalia' electroicyfunkmix by Grenadier is listenable as well, seeming as though it would fit seamlessly into a Repo! The Genetic Opera sequel.
Approach this album with plenty of caution; there is a dissonant, almost bipolar divide between the bad and the good. The good is positively brilliant, and for that reason alone I can't completely warn against the disc. AEC deserves to have "Echolalia" and "Afterlife" notarized as excellent songs, singular amongst the rest of the album for their quite against-the-grain quality. Though the rest of the album ranges from mediocre to unlistenable, and though I'm not sure if I can recommend a purchase, the mere inclusion of "Echolalia" and "Afterlife" warrant a second look at the album; this I can say without reservation.
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