Review Summary: A beautiful electro-pop EP from The Weekend's Andrea Wasse and Australian expatriate Space.
Pause for a moment and reflect on the relationships you have with the following two individuals: (1) someone that you consider one of your closest friends and (2) someone who currently - or once upon a time - conjured up strong romantic feelings. What helps you sustain your relationships with those people? If it's a friend you've known since childhood, chances are he/she lived next door, around the block, or somewhere else within close proximity to you. A few years ago, in Sydney, Australia, a white penguin was born, but its tuxedoed comrades neglected him for nearly a month before the other penguins let him join in any penguin games. And I'm not saying it's a universal law, but personally, my friends are similar to me in many ways. An atheist [probably] isn't going to marry a devout Roman Catholic, for instance, and the rich duke marrying the poor servant is reserved for fairy tales.
Haven't you been told to "Look before you leap" - and found this particularly swell advice - until someone else informs you that "He who hesitates is lost" and later found this apropos, too? Why is it that "Time waits for no man" if "Haste makes waste?" If it's "better to be safe than sorry," what explains "Nothing ventured, nothing gained?" "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today" is motivating advice until "Cross that bridge when you come to it" creeps into your consciousness. "Birds of a feather flock together" and "Opposites attract" seem like two incompatible statements, but the idea that familiarity begets friendship is no stranger to our lives (even if we are constantly faced with contradictory adages), which brings us to Digital Daggers' debut EP Human Emotion
Comprised of Canada's Andrea Wasse (The Weekend
) and Australian expatriate Space (Space [AUS]
), Human Emotion
is a mellifluous, calming extended play highlighted by its ambrosial, haunting soundscapes. Having met through a mutual employee and EMI Music Publishing - to whom both are signed to - the idiosyncratic duo became an indissoluble tandem after previously writing for other artists (Wasse with Fefe Dobson, Space with a litany of rock artists, including Seether and Papercut Massacre, among others). Having expressed a mutual desire to record and perform again, Digital Daggers dropped Human Emotion
just days prior to 2011.
The EP's four cuts can be universally defined by their calming ambiance. Sonically, Space has crafted elegant synth and keyboard loops that seamlessly segue from passage to passage, with soft, never-jarring percussion keeping pace as the different loops dive in and out of each channel. This is particularly intriguing, as Space's renowned instrument - pretty much any and all stringed instrument - isn't featured as often as expected (although the guitars do shine in the effect-laden "No Easy Way"). Meanwhile, as unfair as vocal comparisons can be, Wasse, meanwhile, sounds like Imogen Heap in her Frou Frou
days just as often as she sounds like an agitated Natalie Merchant. While each of these vocalists have their individual, quirky flaws - Wasse is no exception - her soothing vocals on Human Emotions
's less abrasive tracks are far more appealing.
's title track is the EP's obvious highlight, beginning with electronics akin to Boards of Canada
on endorphins and Wasse crooning, "I won't take the hate from your heart . . . I try to run, but my feet move too slowly and I feel the earth fall apart." The transitions between each loop are unnoticeable as Wasse's soaring "Set it free piece by piece, let love leave piece by piece" rings throughout - it's particularly effective and all the more powerful at the song's false stop. "Human Emotion" is the obvious pick if you're forced to select one of the EP's four tracks to try-before-you-buy; it's a beautifully pacifying number whose tranquil demeanor makes for a compelling, allaying listen.
"No Easy Way" deviates from the norm established by the EP's opener, as the introduction's darker musical accompaniment precedes a more abrasive electronic line (it brings to mind the caustic "riff" in 65daysofstatic
's "Drove Through Ghosts to Get Here" and "Await Rescue," but on a much lighter scale) in the chorus. Lyrically, there isn't an incredible amount of ingenuity ("Where do I run now? / There's no easy way out . . . I'm a prisoner but believing / Twisting my delusions . . . Unsteady in the deep end of despair"), but the schizophrenic-like territory Digital Daggers broaches on "No Easy Way" is satisfactory, even if Wasse's erosive vocals pale in comparison to her more abating ebb-and-flow style.
While Human Emotion
hits a bit of a snag, the EP is set back on the right path with the resplendent "Surrender," which arguably features Wasse's best vocal performance under the Digital Daggers name. Her emphatic "Don't make a sound now / Maybe it won't find us after all / Carry me home" in the bridge is stunning in its passionate simplicity, and some of Space's best tinkering can be heard. Of note is his inconspicuous addition of various percussive transitions, from soft cymbal rolls to his almost-extraterrestrial trademark blips and blinks that found themselves here-and-there in his first solo venture (2006's When Clouds Align
). The EP wraps up with the slower, albeit more conventional "Envy," whose instrumentation aligns itself with Wasse's storytelling to a wonderful degree. The strings are more prominent here, and Wasse's hopeful "I'll be by your side / We'll hang the Christmas lights [and] get lost in better times, if only in my mind" is juxtaposed with the all-too-familiar defeated acceptance: "Someday maybe I'll learn the comfort of strangers / And I won't feel winter's bite looking out at the lonely night."
EPs that explore a wide array of sonic soundscapes like Human Emotion
can be difficult to describe. On one hand, it's unreasonable to assign a low score for its throw-it-all-on-there, let's-see-what-sticks approach (e.g. "No Easy Way" representing the least-pleasing Digital Daggers sound because it's so unlike the other three tracks), but if the EP was multiplied by three times to a more representative twelve tracks, this effect might not seem as noticeable. The splendor of "Human Emotion" and "Surrender" cannot be overstated, and "Envy" does a lovely job closing out the proceedings, as Wasse shines most when she sings without the slightest bit of vitriol. Space's efforts in Digital Daggers are noteworthy, as his previous litmus test(s) all served as harbingers of good things to come, and he convincingly meets this expectation with sometimes eerie but mostly gorgeous musical arrangements marked by symmetrical, never-choppy transitioning. While it's unclear how long these two new friends will continue to collaborate together, it's reasonable to claim that they will create enough unique tunes to stand out from the soon-to-be over-saturated electro-pop world. All told, this EP is a more-than-fair taste test of who Digital Daggers are and what they have to come, and coupled with their other published, not-on-the-EP tracks, serves as a reminder that while "Too many cooks [can] spoil the broth," in Human Emotion
's case, "Two heads are better than one."
No Easy Way
Post script: you might have heard some of their tunes if you're, for whatever reason, a soap opera junkie ("Surrender" on 'One Life to Live'), teenage spies going rogue ("No Easy Way" on 'Nikita'), or if you like Tears for Fears getting their songs covered (Digital Daggers have recently covered "Head Over Heels," which is far more brooding than the original, which seems to be the trend when covering a Tears for Fears song, eh, Gary Jules? They've also covered Liza Minnelli / Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" for the video game 'Crysis 2').