Listen up you primitive screwheads: this is the ultimate Cyberpunk
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
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
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
in the webboard
e-mail the chief
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