Review Summary: Long live the new flesh -- every stainless, mechanical, impenetrable, perfectly molded piece of it.
Ed Banger is passé. Crystal Castles is mindless. Sleigh Bells is Gwen Stefani taken to a logical, puerile extreme. M.I.A. has gone off the deep end. Deadmau5 and Skrillex are for sexually overcompensating gorilla lax bros. If any or all of the above statements apply to you, Gatekeeper have an album for you, one that is filthy yet unabashedly hi-fi, gloriously unsubtle yet keenly intelligent, dated yet highly zeitgeisty. Exo
is industrial acid big beat shot with a streak of Xbox (it is accompanied by a specially designed first-person gaming environment) and a dash of good humor. There's nothing quite as knowing as "Optimus Maximus" here -- in fact, a lot of these songs are admirable for their dead seriousness -- yet there's a brazenness to this album that can only be accompanied by some winking self-awareness.
Good thing, too, because then Exo
's ambition sneaks up on you. Gatekeeper's commitment to a sound that is "objectively" rather goofy is certainly right on trend -- it's no surprise that DIS Magazine, arguably the most important and relevant publication of our age, has hailed the album as a new masterpiece -- yet it also transcends ephemerality. The biggest tracks here are heavy and effective enough to serve as alt floor filler for years to come, while the interludes successfully establish a fully-formed sonic environment that will be happily familiar to anybody who wore out their copy of Frank Klepacki's Red Alert
soundtracks. "Exolift", "Vengier", "Aero", and "Encarta" are all good enough to satisfy people for whom my opening slew of opinions doesn't resonate at all, their harmonic sensibilities distinct yet strangely familiar. As is the case with so much music to emerge from our post-everything pop landscape, I'm reminded of Ryan Trecartin's work -- I get the vague sense that I've heard this stuff before, even though I haven't. It's "relevance" minus the easy game of "spot the references". Gatekeeper's sonic predecessors are obvious yet disparate, and what makes the duo's music so striking is the resultant fusion of all these influences. It's futuristic, but not off-puttingly so -- post-human music that appeals to those mystified by Laurel Halo's purposefully sterile vulnerability or left cold by Claire Boucher's '80s-by-way-of-alien-communication productions.
Of course, I'm hopelessly enamored of all those artists' 2012 efforts, but they're an incredibly diverse trio. Visions
, and Exo
all deal with similar themes of identity post-Web 2.0, filtering that intimidatingly wide subject matter through very distinct aesthetics. If Grimes is the most crowd-pleasing of these aesthetics, Gatekeeper is the most visceral, enveloping listeners in a world of stainless brushed steel and proceeding to throw the maddest, stirringest rager ever
in that frighteningly mechanical space. Only the closer, "Encarta", provides a glimpse of what we are conditioned to recognize as "real" humanity, a distinctly Orff-esque choir intoning a series of chants that probably only exist in that fabulous, specially designed Exo
script; unsurprisingly, it's the most unsettling moment on an album often driven by the contrast between horror and giddiness. The intersection of those two elements is where camp often sits, and Exo
has just the right amount of deliberate tackiness to shoot past "tasteful" and instead right into "blazingly glorious". To quote one of the earliest purveyors of a hybrid machinist-humanoid worldview (or world vision?) -- "Long live the new flesh." As Gatekeeper see it on this thrilling and possibly definitive album, it's impenetrable, multifaceted, and irrepressibly imaginative.