Sungenre Album of the Month – October 2018
What started rather extraordinarily as a live-to-tape improvised collaborative project – lyrics and all, is now a fully-fledged band. Exploded View is a multinational trio comprised of UK-born, Berlin-based political-journalist-turned-musician Annika Henderson (vocals, synth) and Mexican producers Martin Thulin (drums, guitar) and Hugo Quezada (bass, synth). Henderson has previously recorded krautrock-influenced solo work under the moniker Anika. While retaining some of these sonic sensibilities, Exploded View adopts a far more avant-garde approach. The resulting output on the group’s second LP Obey is intricately-woven, mature, challenging and captivating.
“Lullaby” kicks the album off in ominous, free-form fashion, with an eerie, reverb-soaked synth bassline which vaguely recalls the main riff from Arctic Monkeys’ 2013 hit “Do I Wanna Know?” accompanied by gentle acoustic guitar notes. The track essentially comes across as a jammed prelude at first, a continuation on from their 2016 self-titled improvised release – underscored by studio rustling, talking and singing in the distance. However, 30 seconds in, the opening motif is abandoned in favour of a locked groove led by strummed guitar chords. Henderson’s vocals enter and sing nonchalantly along with a lightly plucked guitar riff, in a manner recalling Nightmare on Elm Street.
“Open Road” is our first real taste of a premeditated Exploded View. A bubbling synth effect ushers in a fairly conventional song structure, guided by a strikingly-warm high register bass guitar, restrained acoustic drums and acoustic guitar. Henderson’s vocals here feel simultaneously inviting yet emotionally distant. “And no one could hurt you, and no one could sway you, you’ll be driving your own car, on the open road,” she imparts with a tonal quality recalling Broadcast vocalist Trish Keenan.
“Dark Stains” is an outstanding cut which picks up the tempo dramatically with its dancey, motorik beat and post-punk bassline. The track is elegantly and precisely constructed, with layers upon layers of drums, percussion and synthesiser effects building to a frenetic outro. It’s unclear what the underlying message of the song is, however the female vocalist’s main refrain “cos I believe you,” cuts through and feels timely in the #MeToo era – especially given the album’s release coming in the midst of serious allegations surrounding past actions of US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh – a story which is dominating world news headlines. “You’re in a constant battle with yourself, fighting those ghosts of the past, but inheritance is no excuse, and you can break this,” Henderson sings defiantly.
“Gone Tomorrow” is relatively stripped-back and subdued, with an arpeggiated, occasionally gliding synth bassline serving as the song’s backbone. An electronic tambourine sample plays each beat, whilst a heavily distorted electronic snare hit punctuates the fourth beat of every alternating bar. Whilst not a standout track, it is effective at lulling the listener into a meditative trance with its repetition. Title track “Obey” comes next, seemingly sampling Radiohead’s “Ful Stop” (2016) – or at the very least recreating many similar synth tones in the same key. Dense, overlapping synth layers with heartbeat kick pulse, timpani hits and Henderson’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics make for a dazzlingly disorienting piece of music.
The intro to “Sleepers” sounds like a twisted reimagining of “Silence”, the opening track to Portishead’s Third (2008). Indeed, a handful of tracks on Obey appear to take production and arrangement cues from that adventurous album. Unfortunately “Sleepers” is one of the weaker songs here, with the only interesting element really coming in the form of repetitious panning percussion.
Henderson’s vocals gently serenade on “Letting Go of Childhood Dreams” with minimal accompaniment from various synth lines. Rather than commanding attention as one might expect, her vocals here almost fade into the distance, despite the space afforded to her. “Forget what you are doing,” she sings, aptly summarising another weaker moment. Luckily things pick up with first single “Raven Raven”, an outstanding single showcasing the very best the band has to offer. The overall track is remarkably restrained and mature. The drums are admirably left sounding bare, with a busy, brush-hit double-tracked snare added for an additional layer of interest, whilst high pitched synth glitches sit nicely above minimalist post-punk bass notes and vocals.
Opening with distorted guitar and brimming with a carefree punk attitude, “Come On Honey” is somewhat reminiscent of Deerhoof tracks such “Come See The Duck” (2005). Towards its end, the tape winds down, slowly decreasing the song’s speed and pitch – heralding the arrival of the final track, “Rant”. Picking up the pace once again, “Rant” serves as a defiant outro to an already nonconforming album. Henderson’s final vocal line, “there’s logic involved,” suggests there may indeed be method to their madness.
The title Obey doesn’t strike as the band’s guiding philosophy and approach to music making. Instead, upon listening, it comes across as something you’d expect from Orwellian propaganda. The music presented here is at times dark and post-apocalyptic. Given Henderson’s past as a political journalist, one can’t help but infer shades of the current political landscape being reflected in her band’s work. If true, here’s hoping for humanity’s sake that Exploded View’s next release is markedly cheerier.