Review Summary: The album would slay as a soundtrack to a game. Pretty awesome if you like that kind of stuff, but also too samey to be a classic.
Most of the time when our friends recommend us music, it warrants tepid interest at best. But sometimes what we get recommended can really be of substance - if not great overall, then maybe interesting in a singular aspect at least. That's how I got to know Assemblage 23. It's an electropop project of Tom Shear, a US-based multiinstrumentalist and visionary. For an avid Deus Ex fan such as myself, what Shear does proved to be friendly waters with the futuristic, slightly cyberpunk sound he creates. Overall you could say that this sounds and feels like a better Deine Lakaien, although the latter claim to be darkwave. Delicately unsettling, post-apocalyptic and unabsorbing, the music possesses pronounced ambient qualities, mingling them with poignant catchiness of pop.
Today I'll be talking about the debut album by Assemblage 23 entitled Contempt. Released in 1999 and followed by five other albums since that time, it definitely was something fresh at that time. The album's strong point is that it doesn't feel in any way retro even though twelve years have passed (or perhaps it's just that the ideas of futurism haven't shifted in all those years). "Contempt" is the perfect soundtrack to playing your favorite FPS or reading your favorite dystopian novel - it's hooky enough to keep you interested, but not absorbing enough to draw you away from whatever you'd rather focus your attention on. But let's talk about the music itself.
Earlier I mentioned Deus Ex, a game famous for its phenomenal sountrack by Alex Brandon. While not exactly the same kind of deal, Contempt reminds me of that soundtrack greatly, and it's a good thing. For one thing, it's more monotonous in its atmosphere - the feeling of dystopian desolation overtakes all, sometimes interrupted by more delicate sounds of narcotic bliss like Purgatory. The vocals fit really well with the music, being low and apathetic with a delicate classical tone to them, much like in Deine Lakaien. The instrumentation is purely electronic. Everything here is artificial, displaying considerable industrial influences, and even to an extent, drone ones. Some tracks are catchier than others, most notably the opener Anthem or the song Never Forgive. The tracks are considerably samey so it's not much use to try and describe them in detail. But this is not The Acacia Strain sameness, where you hear one song and you've heard the whole album. This time around each song stands on its own (as much as that can be said for an ambient-inclined album), or at least the listening doesn't turn into a chore after three or so tracks. Another nice bonus are the three remixes by various DJs that conclude the album - they don't feel out of place, yet provide slight variation and change of experience. The overall monotony of the album can however be detrimental from the pleasure factor of this album, especially if you're not into that brooding/apocalyptic electropop kind of thing. Or if you don't like albums you can't really focus on. And it's one of those albums - pretty fun, but better left playing in the background while you're whooping your friends' asses in Quake Live or something. It warrants at least a single listen, though, if you want to check out something new and hopefully interesting.
Recommended tracks: Anthem, Surface, Purgatory, Never Forgive, 7 Days, The Remixes