THE PRESETS: Apocalypso (Modular)


Posted on May 21st 2008 09:41 pm

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The Presets: Apocalypso

Modular 2008
11 Tracks. 50mins53secs

The first track on Apocalypso, the latest release from electro-rockers The Presets, is called Kicking And Screaming. And, it’s excellent. It’s everything this electro-house-rock-whatever movement should be in its most pristine form: manic and panicked, just the right amount of New Order influence, with an arpeggiated synthesizer that Giorgio Moroder would gush over. It has a fantastic breakdown toward the end before climaxing in with smooth, processed vocal wails sitting on choppy acidic synth lines.

Unfortunately, all this momentum goes to waste as the second song, My People, is thrown up on the listener. Lacking any discernible subtlety or restraint, My People starts out at eleven and, from there, tries to get to infinite. As one might guess, it’s a fruitless endeavor, which only succeeds in punishing anyone listening. Everything is too loud, too in-your-face, and the melody riff, a progression we’ve heard enough times to recite in our sleep, cannot save it from disaster. This is the case with a number of songs on Apocalypso, and it’s set to chase away potentially listeners. While the best tracks here take time to reveal their pent-up splendor, the worst of the bunch are recognizable within the first twenty overcooked seconds. Eucalyptus wants to be synth-rock, but it forgets that the quiet-loud dynamic needs a little quiet to work, opting instead for loud-excruciating, as if expecting this to compensate for a weak song. Perhaps the worst offender here, Together is electro-house from the LA/Brooklyn school, going for epic with an astoundingly sub par synth line, and following the “pound it on until it works” ethic.

Like the music, the vocals are completely hit or miss – and when they miss, how grating they can be. Julian Hamilton’s voice is too shouty and commanding to ironically deliver lines about dingoes and babies in the eighties (yeah, that bad), on a song like Yippyo-Ay, and have it sound anything by annoying. Think of it like a screaming child on an airplane: no matter what you use to try and block it out, it still finds it way up your spine. On most tracks, his singing is far too present in the mix, so good luck trying to ignore it. The sad thing is that it’s hard to imagine The Presets intending for the vocals to sound this strained; more than likely, some engineer along the line was instructed to make the vocals over-present as a selling point for Apocalypso. This kind of digital brick-walling has become an unfortunate trademark of electro-house recordings, and, as this album proves, such tin-can compression neuters what should (or at least could) be a satisfying dance track.

Apocalypso works best when The Presets let their material develop, rather than pummeling some generic synth stabs into submission. Take This Boy’s In Love, for example, as Hamilton comes off as a more masculine version of Erasure’s Andy Bell. A fittingly corny ballad about courtship, This Boy’s In Love channels Erasure on more than one level, as it manages to stick to the listener both in spite and because of its unabashed melodrama. Likewise, closer Anywhere takes time to reveal its hand, stuffing itself with more and more parts over a tense four-minute buildup, before floating on an ecstatically resolved conclusion.

It’s clear that The Presets have done their synthpop homework, and their hipster swagger – so ironic it isn’t, so unironic it is – it top notch. Parts of Apocalypso, however, can’t help but feel like rushed dance music-by-numbers. The Presets work best when they incorporate even the smallest touches of vulnerability and subtlety to their craft – see the quivering croon and detuned pad atmospherics on If I Know You. In the worst cases, however, there’s a smear of compressed repetition that is far too raw and unrelenting to work. Apocalypso is far from consistent, but it displays potential that makes The Presets worth paying attention to.


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