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Single Frame Ashtray
Burn Radio Airtest
Already Gone Records

Listen up you primitive screwheads: this is the ultimate Cyberpunk album.

Too bad then that Cyberpunk, has been dead as a literary movement since (at least) 1996, when it arguably peaked (and then basically fell silent) with the publication of Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, or a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. Cinematically, The Matrix represents Cyberpunk's final death throes, although the subsequent films of the trilogy showed the franchise to be more within the "Dark Future" category than Cyberpunk proper. For those that don't know, Cyberpunk is the mixture of New Wave, Punk and Technogeek culture, a fusion of day-after-tomorrow technological speculations, New Wave and/or Industrial music and fashion, and the gritty and bleak edginess of Punk attitudes. William Gibson gave birth to what is known as the Cyberpunk movement with his 1984 novel Neuromancer. The aforementioned pieces existed separately in films like Blade Runner, Liquid Sky, Repo Man, and novels like Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, and John Brunner's Stand On Zanzibar and The Shockwave Rider, but it took Neuromancer to wrap them all up into a unified vision.

Music, I suppose is the next logical artistic field for this theme to permeate into, although it could be argued that it has already been here before, namely in the form of Devo. Devo did more than make it cool to be uncool; they were in and of themselves, a radical fashion statement that celebrated the merging of technology and art. They even wrote the theme song for the video game version of Neuromancer, the defining work of the genre. So, if you're looking for any greater justification, I tell you that you won't find anything better than that. Man Or Astroman? frequently injects the geek-effect into their brand of surf rock, which has become even more machine-like and humanistically removed than anything Burn Radio Airtest offers up. The Misfits' Legacy Of Brutality used similar interludes of television show snippets and other industrial-sounding noises as segues to separate tracks, and Foetus can superficially be compared to this with regard to the way in which Jim Thirlwell cannibalizes found sounds and sews them into his music.

So where does Single Frame Ashtray (now known as Single Frame) fit into this mix? Pretty much where Devo left off, but more as a postmodern rather than simply a retro revisitation of 20 year-old material. The beauty of music and fashion is that old styles can become new again. This is Single Frame's gamble, and it has paid a hefty dividend. Burn Radio Airtest mimics the mechanical, machine-perfect drum beats of that early '80s malady known as the drum machine and the familiar beep-boop-boop of the synthesizer. Single Frame has taken these synthetic elements, and deliberately made an album designed to sound as though Wintermute itself (the central AI of Neuromancer) had made it, particularly in "new car remix" and "eavesdropper" which sounds like the depressed broadcast of bitter ennui that regularly moaned forth from Douglas Adams' Marvin the Paranoid Android. The genius of this album could not have truly come to light though if Wetheads Come Running (Single Frame's previous effort) had not been released first, since three of the songs on BRA are remixed versions of WCR tracks. The remixes are Frankensteinian deconstructions of the original material that have alterations of timing and demonstrate a grotesque reductionism to the base elements of the original songs. The cores have remained somewhat intact, but have been so distorted, that they are nearly unrecognizable, as though they were viewed through an LCD darkly, particularly in the case of "new car remix." Imagine if Leonardo Da Vinci had painted a cubist, or even an abstract expressionist rendition of his Mona Lisa; so Single Frame's remixes are similarly reconstructed. Musical artists have done cover songs that were so different from the original, that they had made them their own before, but I can't think of an instance in which an artist has created an almost entirely new and different experience from their own, pre-existing material. Overall though, this is a more direct and driving effort (due to its adherence to pop-n-punk sensibilities) than the occasionally airy and almost aimless Wetheads Come Running. The hollow, echoey sound of WCR is still evident on BRA, but not the lost-in-a-maze feel. In similar fashion to WCR, this album becomes progressively dehumanized via a brilliantly mind-numbing cybernetic transformation. This album feels as though it was written by and for a secret cabal of AIs spread across the globe: Wintermute, HAL 9000, H.A.R.L.I.E., EPICAC, and Shalmaneser. Their message inscrutable, methods unknown, and motivations more than a little frightening.

The final passage of John Brunner's 1968 magnum opus sums up this unnerving effect:

Bathed in his currents of liquid helium, self-contained, immobile, vastly well informed by every mechanical sense: Shalmaneser.

Every now and again there passes through his circuits a pulse which caries the cybernetic equivalent of the phrase, "Christ, what an imagination I've got."

This is an amazing little EP from what may become one of the more important bands of the day. There's nothing truly original here, but Single Frame Ashtray has done what Gibson himself did: they saw the pieces spread across the spectrum, plucked them out and seamlessly weaved them into a terrifying technological masterpiece.

-Jason Dunn

Track Listing-

1. burn radio airtest
2. been to a party at this house (avx mix)
3. dry lips usually crack
4. clipper ship
5. without pens
6. eavesdropper (insomniatronic mix)
7. new car remix
8. 100,000 troops

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