September 4, 2013

Test Spins: Factory Floor, Factory Floor

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Factory Floor is the self-titled debut album from a London dance trio that has been kicking since 2005. Even though it took the group six years to make a proper debut LP, the time was well spent. In those years, the trio befriended Stephen Morris, the drummer for Joy Division and New Order, and had him remix a couple of songs before signing him on as a producer, they produced a number of singles and EPs that got some buzz but faded away and, most importantly, after those six years they stopped leaning extremely heavily on post-punk — to the point that they were yet another wannabe Joy Division — and transitioned towards industrial techno and dance.

The band’s new sound is welcome, not just because we don’t need another Joy Division copycat, but because dance music is undergoing a renaissance, and all of it is happy. This is understandable — who can dance to anything depressing? But if everybody’s happy and nobody is sad, and happy people are all alike, who is being original? This question seems to have struck some. The Knife, already known for their excellent cold synthpop album Silent Shout, pushed the limits of morbidity and alienation in electro further with this year’s Shaking the Habitual. But leaning so heavily on ambience and reverbs makes Shaking the Habitual bloated and messy at times — it is sinister, but not stark.

Factory Floor is both. Even though the album for the most part is stripped down into bare clean synths, percussion and haunting voices, song after song proves that all three can be brutally potent combination. The synth in “Two Different Ways” is a four-note melody relentlessly repeated to hypnosis, and speeded up into a sinister banger that accelerates you in an unknown direction. The tribal drums in “Turn It Up” are in rhythm, but line up in such a way that it sounds like they’re not. The voices in “Fall Back” fade in and out of the synths from all directions like ghosts. Sonic abandon and mechanical death overwhelmingly permeate the record.

Even though each of these elements should count against the danceability of the record, Factory Floor is completely danceable. Most songs run over six minutes in length, but the band subtly and consistently changes something in their sound to keep things interesting, usually right at the moment you think you spot a pattern emerging. The clattering sounds might feel inhuman at times, but it is clear that a lot of human work was put into carefully arranging each beat on this album to create a Kafkaesque experience. If you miss the changes, something feels not quite right. If you catch them, you realize you’re being urgently hurled toward the unknown.

The voices on the record are warped and distorted to the point of incomprehensibility, sounding like gasps and gargles. But for just one moment in closing track “Breathe In,” the voices become comprehensible, instructing you to “breathe in, breathe out.” By the end of such a disorienting and arrestingly mesmerizing experience, you might need the reminder.

Original Author: Kai Sam Ng