Review Summary: Masterfully produced, Assemblage 23 return with another solid album. Ironically enough, that happens to be the issue.
Assemblage 23's latest work, Bruise
, shows Tom Shears continued growth into both his vocal delivery and production skills while demonstrating the main issue regarding the future/synth pop genre; stagnation. Much like VNV Nation
's latest album, Bruise
begins on a high note and quickly steps down to levels fans have come to expect from the always solid Assemblage 23 releases. Though many have grown up on and loved Shear's personal sounding lyrics and almost hesitant delivery Bruise
drives home one point very clear to the determined listener; change is needed.
While it's easy to see the merits and accolades behind Shear's work (this album alone reached the #88 on the German Media Control charts, a first for the band) it almost begins to speak badly for the genre that fans are starved enough of quality releases that such similarity is tolerated. Though the album begins strongly it quickly exchanges energy for lines echoing the same lost, weary, and heartbroken lyrics fans of Assemblage 23 have come to expect from the group. With Assemblage 23 the lyrics seem to be the driving force behind each track (or the center of each songs focus) and far too often they return to similar territory while the produced sounds beg to have free reign. Such a struggle shows both the skill of the producer as well as the limitations it places on the bands sound, while highlighting Shear's placidity in regards to his place in the music world.
Luckily opening track “Crosstalk” is truly something wonderful to behold with the near glitchy sounding samples greeting the listener, though it's ironic to point out how similar they are to those found within“On-Air” by VNV Nation. Focusing on a more upbeat vocal delivery the track recalls the beauty of past songs such as “Madman's Dream” or “Sorry” while the synth lines almost chatter away in the background, sparking images of audio level lights blinking from green to yellow and back again. Lyrically Shear is still on top form, as near ending line of ”If only in the abstract still the job is done, full control no need to fire a weapon, just make them feel threatened and you've already won”
shows. Though no single has been released from the album I'd not be shocked to see “Crosstalk” become an instant hit and fan favorite.
Sadly such nostalgia doesn't always equal audio bliss, as the tracks take a steep dive back to more comfortable and less intense musical pastures. “Darkflow” breaks the previous four track monotony (though small moments in every track can easily be praised), but only barely as it contains elements of Shear's past work even as inklings of a darker direction rear their head. The synth lines are especially impressive, and remind this listener of Espermachine
's debut. Luckily the trend is continued on “Automaton” as the audience is greeted with vocals truly deserving of the title. Though a simple trick such deviation from form is extremely exciting, even when present in such small doses. The comparison to the stellar elements from VNV Nations's Automatic
is relevant here as well, as such a late burst of change is reminisce of the hope brought on by “Streamlined.”
Little moments of inspiration can be found throughout Bruise
, a trademark of many Assemblage 23 releases. The repeating synth line in “The Other Side of the Wall” or the almost 80's sounding drum line from “Over & Out” are just a few of many examples that could be listed. To be frank it's easy to become so focused on the increased production level here that it's startlingly easy to loose sight of what that means for the album as a whole. Though a few will become bored by the similarity to past albums many will sight that as a sign of a truly good band, and herald this years only future/synth pop juggernaut's release with great aplomb. Though it might be worth imploring the masses to stop settling for less when the group can obviously do so much more it is an uphill battle, one which will doubtfully ever come to fruition.
*The special edition includes 10 remixed tracks by various artists, I leave the listener to gauge its merits though it is worth noting that it contains tracks not found on the single disc release.