Friday, July 20, 2012


Com Truise - In Decay
Ghostly International, 2012

Pre-fame (or at least pre-first major release) odds'n'sods collections are often revealing for the wrong reasons: they tend to show up that a band or artist hadn't quite figured it out yet, either still on the way to the sound that would garner attention or overtly in debt to others. Something like the Verve's Wigan Demos, for example, showcase a band that isn't fully in command of the hypnotic repetition that they would exploit to such mindbending effect on A Storm in Heaven. My Bloody Valentine's Ecstasy and Wine, on the other hand, is a fine release that hints at the leap the band would make a year later with "You Made Me Realise" and Isn't Anything. Some artists, though, have made a splash through careful selection of early works into mature statements, like Aphex Twin's seminal Selected Ambient Works 85-92, or Boards of Canada's Twoism and Hi Scores EPs. The latter group is a particular touchstone for the kind of music that Com Truise (the best celebrity-derived band name since Jackie-O Motherfucker, and a notch ahead of Joy Orbison) makes--both in his primary guise and under his earlier Sarin Sunday moniker--and it's not surprising that In Decay suggests a kind of reservoir of this music that Com Truise can dip in and out of as needed. If this collection is not quite the equal of Boards of Canada's early releases, it's a worthy followup to last year's pretty good Galactic Melt and 2010's Cyanide Sisters EP.

For the majority of songs here, this is Com Truise as usual: hard-edged synth lines and glistening arpeggios perfect for driving in your Testarossa through some neon lit 80s cityscape. It's gleaming and hard, but stylishly so, and there's no doubt that Truise is a master of tone and shading (this is perhaps nowhere as evident as on "Data Kiss," the high point of the collection to these ears). I mentioned in my write-up about Galactic Melt that the album was at its best when the songs were left to spin their wheels and head out into space, usually in the form of an extended coda to the song proper which puts the focus on the prettier and more evocative sides of Truise's sound. The same trick is in effect several times on In Decay, and again it results in the most arresting moments. First track "Open," for example, spends its final moment in the kind of dreamy, warbling music that has the right to children. "Stop" ends in a similar way, trading in one of the album's hardest and best grooves--sparser and more aggressive than some of the other tracks--for another tour through those time-faded tones as they drift in and out of tune. The references to Boards of Canada don't stop with the codas, though, as the title of "'84 Dreaming" calls to mind "'84 Pontiac Dream" from The Campfire Headphase (the songs themselves don't share too much of a resemblance). Other influences are hinted at on In Decay, with perhaps none so clear as the Peter Hook-esque bass that opens "Dreambender" like a deliberate nod to "Transmission," though the remainder of the track is much more New Order than Joy Division.

Beyond the traces of influences, though, there are surprises on this record that hint at previously unforeseen affinities between what Truise does and other genres and new directions in which his sound could grow. In the former category, "Colorvision" opens with a groove that's almost reggae, and it is surprisingly less of a misstep than one might think. "Yxes," after its laugh/groan inducing sample, starts out like a moodier, goth-ier take on Com Truise--all industrial-nodding bassline and haunting theme--before ending up in a hard-driving drum machine-driven coda. "Smily Cyclops," meanwhile, splits the difference in its opening section between Truise's usual electro and arena rock, threatening to turn into "Jukebox Hero" at any minute. The latter category is perhaps best heard in "Klymaxx," which rides a massive bassline and some house-y arpeggios to a nice mid-song breakdown, but it's the glitchy percussion and vocal samples that are its most effective element. Similarly, "Video Arkade," though largely undistinguished in its first half, opens up in its midsection with the advent of some of contrail-like synths high above the bassline which manage to the make the melancholy implicit in its bed of pitch-damaged drones real. 

As on almost any roundup of non-album cuts, a few of the songs here aren't particularly memorable or just aren't as effective as other songs by the artist. This is most often the case in the first half, which feels much more like a return to familiar ground or a dry run for Galactic Melt (large stretches of the run from "Dreambender" to "Alfa Beach" blur together, though Haley is too strong a craftsman to leave the songs entirely without distinguishing features). Worryingly, this ends up making Truise's sound seem more limited than I necessarily think it is, as the more appealing second half can at times fall prey to what Simon Reynolds calls "hyper-stasis . . . the restless roil of micro-genres that keep emerging but never quite take-off." I'll wait to hear Com Truise's next official step forward, though, rather than condemning the project based on a clearing out the cupboards release.

In the past, I'd compared Com Truise to Neon Indian, but if there's any connection between the music that Seth Haley makes as Com Truise and that made by Alan Palomo, I think it's with the latter's Vega project more than with Neon Indian. Both guises allow synth obsessives room to run wild, though they retain their pop smarts while doing so. Given, as Reynolds claims, that the 80s serve as some sort of inexhaustible well of cultural material to draw from in the current generation's eyes, Truise's music feels timely as much as it feels retro or nostalgic. His dogged faithfulness to analogue synths, big, gated snares, and electro is allowing him to carve out his own niche in what was an already over-saturated scene a few years ago. As the chillwave class of 2009 sees its members disappear into mediocrity or move away from chillwave, In Decay feels like something of a retrenchment, a reminder of the core aspects of that sound that were (and are) effective and valuable rather than just gimmicky.

It's interesting to think of this music as a kind of cultural time capsule, an encapsulation of a certain sense of connectedness with a particular era in the past. When New Wave, Darkwave, Coldwave, and early industrial are replaced by another set of hip touchstones, what will the results of these influences have told us about this decade? With the benefit of hindsight, will this be revealed as simple revivalism, or will it be pinpointed as a moment of birth (or pre-birth) of something new? Neither In Decay specifically, nor Com Truise's music more generally, can answer these questions, but I can't help wondering if chillwave had a chance to move beyond Reynold's hyper-stasis, and if that chance still exists.

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