The Designer’s Drugs: IamX/The Sounds

Medium: Album

Stimulus: IamX – Volatile Times

Anno: 2011

 

Compared to its previous releases, the latest album from IamX plies a slightly more subdued brand of electrogloom.  The grandiose intensity and orchestration characteristic of IamX remains; all that has changed is that Volatile Times is more menace than fury.

Still, what fury does exist here more than makes up for the rest of the album’s comparative calm.  “Cold Red Light” is a brilliant mixture of snarling robotics that evokes the very best of David Bowie’s forays into industrial music.  The album’s title track is a bouncier blast of big band pop which merges well with the whispers and screams in Chris Corner’s vocals, and “Ghosts of Utopia” is a darker and more stripped-down version of that song.

The calm parts are equally deft, and as has become tradition, the final track is especially breathtaking.  In this case, the track is titled “Oh Beautiful Town,” and it exemplifies all that grandiose intensity and orchestration that sets IamX apart.  It seems that with each release, this entity drifts further from beeping masochism and pretentious darkness, and it moves further into these big, beautiful songs – and that’s a wonderful thing.

 

Medium: Album:

Stimulus: The Sounds – Something to Die For

Anno: 2011

 

I’m not sure if the Sounds’ mutation from electrorock to electropop makes much of a difference.  Sure, the keyboards on this album completely dominate the guitars and there are a few tracks here that seem more radio-calculated than usual, but the band’s instrumentation was always so poppy that the difference on Something to Die For is a question of degrees, not absolutes.  The Sounds haven’t changed their style; they’ve simply arrived at its next logical conclusion.

In any event, the best songs on this album are more pop than rock.  The first two tracks are the album’s zenith, as the darkly ravish “It’s So Easy” leads into the bright orchestra pop of “Dance with the Devil,” and both shine.  “Yeah Yeah Yeah” is a straight-up 80s drum machine dance anchored by hate and Prince-namedropping in the vocals.  Even the best rock song, “Diana,” sounds a bit New Order in the basslines.  In fact, the songs that do sound like typical punky Sounds – especially “The No No Song” – feel pretty average.

There’s little on Something to Die For that is mind-blowing, but it’s a solid experiment that neither destroys the established formula nor stagnates in it.

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