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Friday, October 5, 2018

Amnesia Scanner - Another Life Music Album Reviews

The Berlin duo’s debut album balances club music’s repetitive cadences with all-out chaos—an end-of-the-world soundtrack shot through with fierce, defiant rage.

The Berlin experimental duo Amnesia Scanner renders club music as pure chaos, but producers Ville Haimala and Martti Kalliala are just as interested in equilibrium. It’s a quality best captured in the “AS Crust” video, from their 2016 EP AS, and its looping visual of a robot dog stumbling to regain balance after receiving a swift kick. The robot saves itself with eerily human flails, movements straight from the uncanny valley, just in time to catch another boot once the loop cruelly resets. Amnesia Scanner’s music follows a similarly Sisyphean loop, knocking you askew and letting you adjust to the fractured groove before delivering the next blow. Their early records blurred the line between human and machine, mincing up human voices with hyperreal and grotesque sound design as synths wheeze, screech, and slam. On their first full-length release, Another Life, Amnesia Scanner now carry the steely confidence of a replicant as they assimilate into popular club-music forms.

Even in its most ecstatic moments, a tragic quality runs through Another Life. It’s the duo’s tradition to preface every track with “AS,” which can be read as either an abbreviation or a word, but the album title also offers its own double meaning. The phrase “another life” can be taken as an optimistic delusion or the desensitized tick of the death toll in a world where pain and suffering seem increasingly overwhelming. By colliding those two ideas, Another Life stands as Amnesia Scanner’s most accessible and impactful release to date, a fitting soundtrack to a time when reality is constantly at risk of being reframed and distorted. Much of the album’s power lies in their use of vocals, both human and non-human, which flesh out their dystopian soundscapes, both thematically and texturally, into thrilling and terrifying new shapes.

Another Life doesn’t feel apocalyptic so much as it suggests the end is already happening. After the introductory “AS Symmetriba,” Pan Daijing looks back at the wreckage on “AS Unlinear,” one of two collaborations with the noise artist that make up Another Life’s highest peaks. She echoes the wry cynicism of This Heat’s doomsday classic Deceit, delivering the line “Last year was a public change of character” like a press statement, but making every syllable strike as hard as the blunt percussion thudding around her. Reaching the concluding line, “Last year was not linear/Not linear,” she repeats the last phrase, dissecting it in a digitally treated scream as the song crashes into its chorus.

The album’s other key vocalist, credited as Oracle, is described as “a disembodied voice... which represents the sentience that has emerged from Amnesia Scanner.” Whatever that is supposed to mean, it takes a highly fluid synthetic form that slides effortlessly between ghoulish lows and chipmunk highs, delivering lyrics far more compelling than its sci-fi backstory. “AS A.W.O.L.” is a simultaneously hellish and luxurious club track where deeply pitch-shifted vocals express pain and paranoia before spiking into the sharp, ecstatic call, “I’m going A.W.O.L”. A delicately twinkling melody, practically a lullaby, dances over the rattling, blasted-out beat like a Xanax dissolving over a tongue. It numbs the track into a shell-shocked banger, framing the titular phrase as much as a mental state as a physical one.

While previous EP releases like AS and AS Truth found Amnesia Scanner working in short, brutally effective bursts, Another Life paces its wider range with softer moments. “AS Daemon” offers a brief respite, showing a rare tenderness without sacrificing any abstraction. The album doesn’t master this flow until its final stretch as the somber, spacious “AS Chain” clears the smog for the methodically building “AS Securitaz,” which is all controlled explosions, aching synths, and spindly strings. Those tracks and the tense closing comedown of “AS Rewild” all serve to lift up the penultimate song, “AS Chaos,” the second Pan Daijing track. Here lies the key to Another Life’s doomed ecstasy and possibly all of Amnesia Scanner’s music. Melting between Mandarin and English, the lyrics’ message is universal (“All around you it’s just chaos, chaos, chaos”) and so is Daijing’s fierce, defiant rage, never letting up even as the song slows and crumbles. The world might be an unrelentingly bleak place right now, but Amnesia Scanner find new strengths under pressure on Another Life. In more ways than one, they’re only just finding their voice.


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