This absolutely must be heard in headphones, as the whole album should be. The opening hook panning and swirling builds fabulous anticipation for the moment the song comes into focus, the synthesizer and drums taking the shape of aptly futuristic burst-fire weaponry. Whole song works on building tension then dropping the floor out from listeners for just a moment. Tonal variation abounds in the latter half before the deceptively-brief affair comes to a sudden halt, tires screeching behind it just in time.
This is the Way You Burn: The opening drumming feels a knowing nod to “March of the Pigs,” trading the fury there for frigid ennui for nearly a full minute before bursting into bloom, as bitterly swirling waves of static wash over the chorus and McCown’s drumming becomes almost superhuman. It’s difficult not to imagine limbs thrashing viciously in a darkened room while Maddox’s nearly-whispered intonations fall amid the murk, each syllable laced with quiet threats, both in delivery and in actual lyrical content. It’s a familiar dichotomy for the two, but it’s somehow more sinister here than it has been before.
Out From the Shadows Into the Light:
Perhaps the most mechanical song they’ve written to date, which of course means they’re playing to strengths. There’s an effortless brawn to the arrangement, and this is definitely one of the album highlights. Dance amidst fire sirens or convince about a dozen club kids to have a knife fight; either way this is the kind of soundtrack you’d expect for it. Chugging bass contrasts with a barrage of synthesizer klaxons which are occasionally interrupted by more piercing tones. All three meet with an almost euphoric hook for the last few seconds. It’s tragically and tantalizingly brief. This one begs for a remix. Hell, it begs for twelve. May we all be so fortunate!
Again, dance culture creeps in! If the prior track felt tinged by an Underworld influence, The Orb come to mind here. One could dare describe the opening notes as playful, not an adjective that one would expect for such a band. Hi hat rolls during this introductory passage are delicious, and all of the drumming is particularly nimble. When the dynamics shift, McCown picks up with little flourishes. It’s never ostentatious, but feels measured and quick-witted. It’s impossible not to move with his playing here. It’s confident playing, deserving of more expletive-laden, glowing compliments than may be wise to publish. The almost pastoral, horn-like synthesizer voices in the final decrescendo are unexpected, but oddly pleasant! Sadly, again, this one ends too soon.
Eyes Don’t Move:
Oh, that opening drop! How could a punch to the face ever be so welcome? Watery vocal effects—likely clever double tracking—pad the blow just enough. Lead instrumentation is ambiguous here; whether it’s guitar or a heavily distorted horn patch on keys is hard to say, but its rise and fall propels the song forward. There are some clever cymbal-mute moments here that one could blink and miss, but they leave room in the mix and allow for copious use of said percussion that would be jarring from a less adept performer. Closing moments are again surprisingly delicate, minus the solitary, thumping roar of heartbeat bass notes.
So, 2016’s “Black Hole” got a sequel, a grittier elder brother of sorts? Few things could ever be more welcome! The lead tones crackle and hiss over distorted bass before blurring into a dizzying wash that, again, must be experienced over headphones. It’s intoxicating, layered, begging to be studied. Somehow it manages to be calm amid the din, almost comforting? Here, a clear pattern emerges of being bruised by the noise first, just to be held over a few shimmering seconds of synth pads. While it’s an initially frustrating denial, never being quite enough to get lost in, the ebb and flow of this duality becomes its own reward. Again, however, a remix or three would be warranted, welcomed, and hastily purchased.
The tempo recedes into a warmth that would almost suit a stoner metal group. Of course, this is still Bloody Knives, so there’s an apocalyptic sheen all the same. Stuttering, syncopated drums are a welcome surprise. This is the breather we’ve been building to, though still no less fiery. This could have been ridden out for four times the existing runtime, and it’s likely no one would have objected.Their earlier “Bleed Out” comes to mind.
A soft pulse of synthesizer pads hides deceptively fast bass work here as Preston brings one of his most beautiful vocal melodies in a long while. When the arrangement opens up, it drops listeners into a resplendent hall of mirrors as cleverly panned synth hooks refract one another into the infinite. This is a subtler moment, perhaps, but another of the high points of the album. A lot happens here, and Bloody Knives songs are always at their best when they do this. It’s best not to spoil the surprises any further with describing them. Whereas other songs on the album close with a whisper, this one gets loud! If prior tracks on the album left youmissing that, here it is again for you, an old friend smirking at you for having been so impatient.
Ashes Into Dust:
It’s surprising this isn’t the album closer. Do not adjust your speakers; the glitching, interrupted hooks are expected. Again, we get a slower tempo, and an assured touch of finality that comes with that. McCown controls the energy very well here, with interspersed fills moving all over isolated parts of his kit so imperceptibly that they coalesce into a broader, seamless whole. It could take a few hours to try to dissect, a pleasant challenge, to be sure. Truth told, it’s hard to focus on anything else because of how shining a moment of drumming it is. Quite probably, everything else is given a backseat to allow for this, which is a wise choice.
We get that machine-gun-fire synth work again here. There may be some very careful time signature changes in it, but it’s not entirely apparent at the first few listens. If you forgot the punk roots this all came from, you’ll be reminded here. This feels like a celebration of all of the sounds they’ve touched on before, actually, as a simple, more psychedelic hook is set against what just might be a piercing guitar for the last few moments. This does actually make sense as the closer, in hindsight.
On the whole, 70 Years of Static feels indebted to rave culture, despite still being every bit as industrial and aggressive as the majority of the Bloody Knives catalog to date. Big Beat groups of yesteryear come to mind, as if catapulted into the dystopia of Earth circa 2020, where such sounds prove even more needed and welcome. It’s purgative, but never too nihilistic, which is probably for the best given the shape of the last year.
Production is bitingly crisp, lending intensity to the songs from a different angle than the dense arrangements of past work. For those who appreciated that about past albums, this represents a gear shift, but one that still hits the same targets after momentary recalibration. Great attention has been given to these mixes. It works very, very well, and is an intriguing new side to see. The growth isn’t overzealous or a radical reinvention, so nothing is so different as to be unfamiliar or unwelcome.
Since 2016’s I Will Cut Your Heart Out For This, the Texan collective has been moving towards more subdued approaches. While 2018’s follow-up White Light Black Moon was icier than its predecessor, the songs here seem to refocus the current incarnation of the band on familiar, bloodthirsty (ha) territory, but not without a wink and a smile. Is this a . . . carefree Bloody Knives? It’s strange to even consider such a descriptor for their music, but it just may fit! Things here are certainly confident, yet never self-indulgent. Sadly, there are moments where self-indulgence would have been warranted that aren’t capitalized upon, but there are worse fates than being left wanting for more of a good thing.
Guitar is nearly absent on the album, and may be entirely; anything sounding like one could just as easily be a very cleverly manipulated synthesizer or keyboard signal. The ambiguity works and things still sound incredible either way. Moreover, this approach will be familiar to those who enjoyed the band’s earlier work, but the end result is subtler, sharper here.
Those who may have felt alienated by the more experimental and reserved nature of this album’s predecessor will likely welcome everything here. Those hesitant listeners who may have found the band too noisy before will appreciate how balanced the mixes are. Part of the band’s appeal in the past was that they could be a challenging listen, but they’re no less enjoyable when stripped down to bare and polished essentials. Perhaps less is more? Maybe, just maybe.
Overall, 70 Years of Static is a crisp, focused effort that manages to make a very specific formula and approach still sound new and somehow modern. It comes at a time when a bit musical catharsis is very sorely needed. It’s hard to find any faults in any if it save for one nagging complaint: there’s just not enough of the damn thing! Brevity shouldn’t be a surprise for a band that plays at such tempos, but again, everything old is new again even here, and it’s easy to forget not to expect said brevity. At least anticipation is a Hell of a drug, eh? Here’s to the next one!
Addendum: Oh, and rumor has it those remixes I found myself wanting may just be in the pipeline already! One can hope!