Monday, 31 August 2009

"My, What Illusion..."

Hey! Today you're lucky enough to have come across a rarely-appearing post from Ilictronix's "lost member". Aren't you special? I'd say well over half of my posts start with "glad to be back!" by now, but hey. I'm here now. And I've got, as I always seem to, a treat for you guys. You may have seen it in the banner ads recently (at least, before the site change, which by the way I'm very happy about).

In one of my previous posts I gave a glowing review to The Movement by Sounds Like Johhny Depp (aka Hani). Now I have the pleasure of doing a follow-up review for The Illusion Soundtracks, and you better get ready for some gushing praise, because this album blows The Movement out of the water.

Well, to start things off I'll talk a bit about the album itself. The Illusion Soundtracks was originally planned to come out on September 9th, to coincide with what has by now practically become a holy day for Daft Punk fans, "909 Day". However, Hani eventually decided that releasing an album on 909 Day would be sacrilege and moved the release date up to August 7th. It also moved up the deadline for this article, which is why it's coming out so long after the release (sorry Hani).

I was fortunate enough to have gotten a copy before everyone else, straight from the source (one of those writer's privileges I love to abuse). I knew even before I started listening that it was something special. It's a concept album, about everything that, despite not being real, can have a massive (and sometimes devastating) impact upon our lives. It came digitally "packaged" with photos from an professional-quality shoot (one of which is the album cover you see at the top of the page), some more provocative than others but all stating basically the same thing: we tell ourselves lives to believe we're better than we are, and get so wrapped up in those lies that we refuse to actually try and be better. The greatest illusion of them all.

Now, on to the actual review:

1.) Proper Spelling - Not exactly the best start to a record like this. It's very mechanical, almost painfully so. It sounds more like a track from The Movement (not necessarily a bad thing) with its sad simplicity. It works, but it's not suited very well to the album it's on (though it does get a lot more dramatic near the end).

2.) Reality Xerox - Now on to the first proper illusion. Hani stated that this song was meant to resemble a bad trip, which it does very well, but... perhaps you should understand where I'm coming from with this. I'm deathly afraid of hallucinations. Anything even vaguely trippy, psychedelic, or surreal makes my heart drop into my stomach. I get afraid to swallow for fear that I'll swallow something psychoactive. So perhaps it's understandable that I was mortified when Hani said that there would be a "bad trip song" on the album. But he pulls it off perfectly. It's actually an album highlight, with distorted, wordless vocals, lots of banging percussion and an overall dismal feeling. It was the first indicator for me of how different this album would be from The Movement.

3.) Vicodin - Anyone who's a fan of the medical drama series House (which is a group I can proudly say I'm not among) will be familiar with the term. The show's protagonist is addicted to the painkilling substance. The song meant to represent the hopelessness of someone numbed by it is another album highlight. All the despair of "Reality Xerox" is here, but it's anesthetized, muffled. A delicate, harplike synth plays over it all, weaving a tapestry of sadness and making for the saddest song on the album.

4.) Go Figure - This is my favorite track on the album, mostly because it's like a better version of "Pins And Machines" from The Movement. (and, despite being the second-longest song on the album, at a much more reasonable length). There's a sense of sadness on this song too, but it's mostly to contrast the excitement of the retro-rave atmosphere. Much like "Pins and Machines", it sounds like what Crystal Castles might have been up to when raves were at their peak popularity. It works great. Slow enough to be as atmospheric as the rest of the album, but still so energetic that at a faster tempo this could easily be spun at any dance party to a good crowd reaction...

5.) Frantic Emergency - ...That is, if you didn't go for this song instead. Within seconds you're blown halfway across the room by this one. It's certainly frantic. Wow. I can just picture the strobe lights running on overdrive to catch up to it. I dare you to dance to it. They'll be carrying you off in a stretcher. At least, until it suddenly changes with a minute left in the song, at which point it reveals something surprising: slowed down slightly, it's another miserable, downtempo rumination. Perhaps that part was meant to represent survivor's guilt?

6.) Why Should I Care? - Beginning with a slightly unsettling music-box melody, this song does and doesn't give you any relief. One the one hand, the music box and some backing elements come together to make an altogether atmospheric ambient track. On the other, it remains very bizarre and somewhat eerie, as if you were in one of those Japanese horror movies where the ghosts of children are the scariest things, but it were combined with a good, somewhat sad American horror movie where haunted houses exude a sense of fear simply because they're so sad in their abandoned state.

7.) Pulk/Pull - The equivalent of "Some People" on The Movement, this is a weird little vignette of a track that mainly serves as a transition between styles. Unlike "Some People", however, it has some interesting qualities of its own, making it an enjoyable track despite the lack of depth.

8.) The Japanese Syndrome - Gradually building up but still minimal, this track really gets into the groove. You'll be bobbing your head for sure. It's not one of my favorites but it's undeniably fun. 8 minutes seem to fly by.

9.) Like You Have It - Beginning with a grating creaking noise which repeats a few times, this track soon becomes something entirely different with a glamorous synth line that seems to light up as it plays. But that beauty is somewhat shallow as it simply plays over and over again, making you focus on the part you like but never giving you anything else for fear that it may not be as good. To me it represents the illusion of beauty: a model drenched in makeup so that nothing natural is evident. Beautiful, for sure, but nothing beneath that beauty. It's this illusion that the majority of the album art focuses on.

10.) Antielectro - Perhaps I'm a bit biased in favor of this track because of it, but I can proudly say I inspired "Antielectro". It began with something totally unrelated: my listening to a performance by Underworld at the 2008 Lowlands festival. During the middle of a song there was a problem with the machines, and they were unable to continue with the track, so they seamlessly transitioned into something simpler while the techies worked on fixing the problem. Starting with a basic sound effect/drum loop, this improvisation grew gradually more complicated as more and more systems came back online for them to work with. Eventually what had started out as a soulless loop became a beautiful melody, a song so good I initially thought they were playing a demo from their new album. But then, when everything was working again, it ended. The melody folded in on itself and they went back to playing the song they were playing beforehand. But I loved that improv so much I couldn't let it go unnoticed. So I ripped the audio, isolated the part that I liked, and made it an mp3:

Underworld - Mechanical Breakdown Improv [right click to download]

Once I had the file I sent it to the only person I knew who could make a track like it: Hani. To my surprise he liked it as well and went straight to work on a track inspired by it. I'm not sure if he had any of it in progress beforehand, but regardless, in two days he came back with Antielectro. Back then I was one of only two people in the world who had hears the song, and I loved it. It captures the essence of what made that Underworld improv so great: it begins with a cold, emotionless drum loop, which goes into a mischievous melody and builds until finally it reaches perfection with a blissful, muted synth. All the tension the track had before suddenly becomes beauty with the addition of that synth. Obviously I wasn't the only one who liked it because after the release many listeners said it was their favorite.

11.) Propane and *cough* Masturbation - Well, despite the odd title this is a fairly interesting track. A toe-tapper with some good drums and a melody reminiscent of an 8-bit video game on codeine. It may take some getting used to, but it's worth the effort.

12.) No Need - The best way I can describe this track is by drawing a comparison to "High Up" from The Movement. Hani has a way of making excellent closing tracks, always sad and somehow liquid in nature. "No Need" seems to be the final, hopeless brush stroke in the picture being painted on the album. It's a summation of all the illusions. And it's the most depressing song on the album at the same time as it's the most relaxing. It parts quietly, leaving you peaceful despite the lack of a happy ending.

Overall, I'm tempted to give the album a 10, but no album is perfect, so Hani will just have to settle for... 9.5. This really is a great album.

Some of the songs I liked most:

Sounds Like Johnny Depp - Reality Xerox [right click to download]

Sounds Like Johnny Depp - Vicodin [right click to download]

Sounds Like Johnny Depp - Go Figure [right click to download]

Sounds Like Johnny Depp - Antielectro [right click to download]

Be sure to hit up the Sounds Like Johnny Depp Website for news and links to all his releases.
Click here for a direct link to download the album.

Reminding all my many fans to be patient, because I take a while with articles,
Champi :)


hani said...

OMG OMG OMG! /screaming and running around the room/

I never imagined it'd get 9.5, thank you very much Champi! ^^

hani said...

oh, and about the package - I mean photos in the booklet and on the cover - give it up to Dolores Dash, who did all the photos for me - also, she appears on the front cover.

Joe said...


Hani, I'm liking that Antielectro track.