March 5, 2013

B Michael Payne wrote this in a hovercraft-converted Edsel.

The debut album by Brooklyn trio Huntronix starts off in a retrograde fashion. A wash of synths with a retro-futuristic posture and echo-heavy live drums carry its first lines in like the surf at the end of Planet of the Apes: “We’re gonna tell you how it’s gonna be.”

The opening is something of a backward looking gambit for two reasons: recent electronic-leaning bands mining the past have tend to stop at the 90s, fumbling together toward a few strange but recognizable nexuses: either a neon synthesis of new age and R&B, or a big beat’d and even bigger base’d electronic dance sound.

Oh, and for the second reason why Huntronik seems like an anomaly: it rarely seems like many rock bands are interested in telling you how anything’s going to be. (Telling you we’re going to have sex – yes; telling you how I feel about our impending or past sex – yes; general assessments of how life and society are right now – not as frequently.) The album seems to have a pretty stark, almost luddite message to convey, which is constantly at tension with the actual electronic sound of the music.

Huntronik deviates from many of the on-trend sound signifiers by hewing pretty closely to classic indie rock song structures. Intros and bridges abound. There are choruses. But every song also has a buzzy electric friction.

One of the album’s highlights, “Everyone Is A Website“, is like a seven-layer dip of sound, with a high-oscillating beam shining down upon fuzz bass, swarms of bumble bee synths, acoustic guitar, and way down at the bottom lead singer Greg Hunt’s vocals, which are unfortunately trapped in a crater here and throughout the album.

Still, it’s relatively easy to suss out the message of the album. There’s a sort of dialectic at work that brings up the proposition of joy then offers the rejoinder of dread. What’s at stake is how much humanity a person can retain when computers and technology constantly replace and replicate our vital functions. It sounds like Brian Wilson, in the throws of acid madness, going full electronic. Which isn’t meant to say anything grandiose; it’s just that there’s a palpable lack of pleasure in the songs’ point of view and tone, yet they set a sonic standard that’s intricate and entertaining.

The penultimate song is called “No Deceiver.” Is there no deceiver because the only words occur during a gentle middle eight, and they sound sort of vaguely about heaven? (“Language was invented so people could lie” is a line from an acoustic “El Scorcho” cover I remember Audio Galaxy’ing freshman year.) Or is the song honest and true because over its 3:52, it tells a completely valid teleological tale based on sound and tension.

Huntronik isn’t exactly a great party album, which is fine because at most of my parties, I end up getting too drunk and my girlfriend replaces my awesome playlist with Bruce Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac. But the thematic intent of Huntronik puts the album itself at risk. Throughout, there’s a palpable skepticism of technology, and a sort of wish to retain the human in modern life. The sound of the album is achieved through way-retro synthesizers and heavily distorted guitar, while the vocals are frequently way down in the mix, as if the human in the band is trying and failing to escape. The album takes a stand, but it also stands for ambivalence.

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