Review Summary: Gridlocked
The one thing that can be said about the IDM scene is that as quickly as it gained momentum it decelerated into a mound of mediocrity with numerous offspring doing very little to expand the sound their forefathers laid down, instead taking it and repeating it to redundancy. A few though these days have managed to find an identity of their own and become something more than the sum of their parts. The now sadly defunct Gridlock were one of these musical projects and their final offering, Formless
, shows them finding their identity or at least on their way towards one.
Gridlock's evolutionary path is an interesting one; evolving from what is essentially an industrial rock band into the Amber
-era Autechre-esque sound of Formless. The main difference between this though and the aforementioned album is that it doesn't possess the glacial coldness of Amber
that dotted it, it being dusted with a far grittier industrial/ambient approach. This album then is one that, while still containing some measure of synthetic sterility, is far more human than Amber
. It's music for robots that somehow got mixed up with some pesky human DNA along the way. That being said about all the comparisons to Autechre, Formless'
sound has many facets that distinguish it from their influences.
The biggest way that this album distinguishes itself is in the use of contrast. Gridlock's cleverness in their song-writing shows throughout in how they've dissected and layered the respective parts of their sound. Ambient synths ponder harmlessly in the background as an aggressive, chaotic beat crackles and rotates on itself before both come crashing together with usually spectacular results. Songs like 'Pallid', 'Return' and 'Scratch' show the beat being forced into titanic marching rhythms behind soaring waves of synths. At other times Gridlock opt for a quieter, more contemplative approach with the contrast and harmony on songs such as 'Done Processing'. Indeed on some songs such as 'Return' and 'Atomontage' the loudness of the beats is used to seemingly emphasise and enhance the quieter parts of these songs. It's this kind of dynamic, three-dimensional approach to the song-writing that shows, whether loud or quiet, Gridlock are almost always in complete control of their sound. They show throughout that they have a deep and clear understanding of how they want everything to sound and more importantly how to distinguish themselves from their peers through a far more cinematic and emotional approach to the song-writing. Not only that but Gridlock occasionally add subtle textural flourishes on several songs that enhance them immeasurably such as the synthetic female vocals on 'Return' or the keys on 'Re/Module.'
As much as these textural Easter eggs help Formless
they're still too few and far between to not stop the album feeling like a melting pot. This is partially down to the album length's being a lethargic fifteen songs but also due to the fact that many songs use the same form of synth throughout, creating a very similar atmosphere throughout. The duo's mostly cast iron song-writing helps distinguish most of the songs from each other but at the same time it doesn't stop it from feeling a little too cohesive in the wrong way. That being said the biggest overriding problem, and what prevents Gridlock from creating a truly original sound, is that it's roots are still too heavily embedded in their music. When one listens to it the music the similarities become far more obvious than the differences and at it's worst (see 'Song23') the album can be clichéd and monotonous to a ridiculous degree. These moments are in the minority and there are more that show Gridlock raising themselves above the parapet than below. That being said there aren't enough to really break any boundaries only to bend them.
It's a shame then that Formless
is Gridlock's final album as it feels more like a very promising beginning than an end. Perhaps the due may reunite one day under this or a different moniker and really push their sound up to new heights but until that happens what we're left with is an exceptionally strong and consistent, if unoriginal piece, of IDM that hints at greatness on occasion. Bon voyage and hopefully one day, many happy returns.