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Amnesia Scanner - Tearless Music Album Reviews

The Finnish duo’s deconstructed club music grapples with life in the Anthropocene, drawing from nu-metal and hardcore in songs that feel burned out and overwhelmed.

With a pandemic raging and the planet warming, it can feel like “we are all now stuck in a science-fiction novel that we're writing together,” suggests Kim Stanley Robinson, a man who knows a thing or two about speculative fiction. In a widely shared New Yorker article from May, the writer confronted the possibility that our present-day scenario is every bit as strange as one of his Martian stories. The boundary between reality and fantasy has been breached. Finnish electronic duo Amnesia Scanner have been monitoring the situation for some time, and on their second LP, they sound less optimistic than ever.
Before their debut album came out in 2018, Amnesia Scanner were anonymous. The project left behind a breadcrumb trail of cryptic music videos and mixtapes, starting with 2014’s AS LIVE [][][][][], and helped sketch out the idea of “deconstructed club music”: harsh, angsty, and heavily compressed, with scraps of pop, techno, and dembow knotted into fractured melodies and nu-metal squall. With the release of Another Life, their air of mystery evaporated, but Amnesia Scanner have continued to be apocalyptic, above all else. Tearless, according to Ville Haimala and Martti Kalliala, the Berlin-based musicians behind the project, is their “breakup album with the planet.” Along with recent work from Oneohtrix Point Never, ANOHNI, and Grimes, the record grapples with life in the Anthropocene era and the awareness of humanity’s irreversible impact on its only home.

Amnesia Scanner aren’t the kind of guys you’d find wearing “End Is Nigh” sandwich boards and shouting into megaphones about solar flares; until now, they could even have been accused of taking a perverse pleasure in watching the world burn, choosing to rave through chaos rather than fight to put out the flames. Now, though, the mood has soured. Where Another Life felt bright and alert, shimmying towards oblivion like lemmings in a conga line, Tearless is burned out and overwhelmed. This is ugly music, even at its most melodic. The shadow of nu-metal and hardcore hangs over tracks like “Flat,” a collaboration with metalcore act Code Orange, where busted electronic drums and shredded guitars recall Deftones and Nine Inch Nails. On “AS Tearless” a chant-along punk riff is torn to pieces by distortion. There’s no air, no light. A brief interlude, “Call of the Center,” informs us in crackling robotic tones that we’re “approaching the center of the labyrinth.”

Voices, including those of Brazilian DJ and producer Lyzza and Peruvian artist Lalita, are processed to sound steely and serrated, slicing through the mix like a logger’s chainsaw. These artists appear at the album’s poppiest peaks: Lalita bluffs her way through heartbreak on the operatic “AS Acá” (“I feel like the pain of losing you doesn’t affect me,” she sings in Spanish), and Lyzza’s voice is shattered into iron filings on “AS Going.” (Lyrically, there’s nothing more than hints at the end-of-days theme.) Aside from those sharply focused highlights, and a brief climax of power chords and blast beats on “AS Labyrinth,” the atmosphere is claggy and subdued. Tearless ends as it began, in slow, exhausted strides. “You will be fine if we can help you lose your mind,” sings a distorted, uncredited voice on the final track, a lighters-in-the-air lament for the party at the end of the world. What could be darker, and more euphoric?

With clubs and festivals on hold in the wake of the pandemic, Tearless will not be presented as the live audiovisual extravaganza that Amnesia Scanner had planned for it. That’s a shame, because their music is designed to be heard at a deafening volume, offloaded in huge slabs to trigger a seismic event on the dancefloor. But as a quiet killer scythes through populations, and as a dozen more undiscovered species disappear from the Earth forever, such an anticlimax is fitting. Kim Stanley Robinson might agree. His second novel, The Memory of Whiteness, promises a fantastical instrument which allows music to flow directly from a master player’s thoughts into reality, thereby cracking open the secrets of the universe. The novel is set in 3229. There’s something to look forward to.
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