Review Summary: Diffusion of the self, diffusion of the other.
Department M was a decisive change in direction for former Grammatics frontman Owen Brinley. The transformation from cello-infused indie rock bombast to the dark, cynical electronica of Department M
, the first EP, marked a distinct shift in songwriting principles; swirls of pastel were inverted to harsh neon, more was being made from less. Department M
was abrasive, sometimes confrontational - certain tracks would glare right at you with aggressive hooks and deliberately rigid, mechanical movements. Oftentimes, they were representations of anxiety and paranoia being wrangled into makeshift form. Nevertheless, at the heart were clever and compact melodies which knew the quickest way to worm through ears. Owen’s light, fluttering tenor remained a consistent counterbalance to industrial washes of synthesizer, lending his material a curiously ethereal quality.
finds itself in a state of contemplation, sunk into a negative space that is paradoxically heavy. The neon lights of Department M
have been shut off; dusk, in its muted palettes, pervades Deep Control
. The vocals, from Owen and guest artist Snow Fox, hide behind translucent veils that soften their already-delicate voices. A soft layer of reverberation envelops the synthesizers, mellowed and matured from their past selves; the notes from high to low have a tendency to feel rounded, cautious. The use of live drums, as well as guitar and bass, suggest that the record doesn’t wish to veer too far into electronic abstraction. Deep Control
is airtight yet airy, floating despite its concrete frames; yes, on some level it is a tightly assembled pop record, but it also refuses to be entirely solidified. And yet it does not beckon for you to give it shape - however parsimonious in construction you may think it to be, its foundations are stable (and so are the quality of its hooks).
It is necessary for Deep Control
to be grounded to some degree - it serves as a vessel for the conceptualization of things that do not take physical form. There are oblique evocations caught in effervesces of synth runs, “carbonated souls [swimming] the pure-o fizz below”. If Deep Control
escapes understanding, it is an intentional choice; it has its sights set on the unseen, after all. The sentiments of the record are not ones that easily survive the journey to the surface of consciousness: these are “relegated to a flashback through smoked glass”, such as the quiet disquietude peering through the opacity of rumbling bass notes on “Stress Class”. “Linear” coolly marches forward, trajectory kept in check by deeply suppressed emotion; “cold, too clinical, bathed in ethanol, so medicinal”, goes the song.
is conspicuously centred around the tenebrous divide between different states of mind, where the sense of self becomes lost and sensory data is dispersed during transmission. The loss of identity may be freeing - “Air Exchange”, which proclaims “help me forget myself, how hard could it be?”, is a brief moment of jubilance, vocal melodies landing gracefully after soaring to a peak. Deep Control
, only half-filled with reality, contains enough space for you to displace yourself into it - the end-goal experience, then, is the melding of mind and imaginary matter. The record is accommodating precisely because it has been hallowed out, though rest assured that it still possesses a soul.
was synthesized by a band who knew how to hold onto the air that they had grasped. It breathes, exchanges oxygen with those who let it absorb into the mind. Though it may be characterized as dreamlike, it more specifically occupies the precarious boundaries that exist in between sleep and awakening. There, it is master of its domain - seemingly formless, yet omnipresent.