Friday, April 07, 2023

Telegenic Pleasure - Concentric Grave

Holy fucking hell! I usually try to keep this blog PG-rated, but those were the three words that latched on to me when it was time to start writing this piece. Telegenic Pleasure is a band I reviewed quite favorably back in 2019 (I was shocked to discover it was actually that long ago!). But on its second LP, the London (England and Canada!) based duo has gone mega next level on us. Out now on No Front Teeth and Feral Kid Records, Concentric Grave is the work of two titans of our community: Rob Brake from Mononegatives, Isolation Party, etc. and No Front Teeth head honcho Marco Palumbo-Rodrigues (I'll refrain from mentioning all his bands since you don't have all day to read this review). The album was written and recorded back in the dreadful summer of 2020. Brake created the music in Canada. Across the pond, Palumbo-Rodrigues added the vocals. I almost can't believe this album was produced in such a manner. It sounds like the work of a single (and very brilliant) brain. All I can say is that these two men's artistic visions are remarkably in synch. So either these guys were separated at birth or they had the means to communicate telepathically across an ocean. 

Telegenic Pleasure's first release was that rare synth-punk album that I could honestly describe as enjoyable. But with Concentric Grave, this duo has truly blown me away. I've always thought of Rob Brake as a mad genius composer with a synthesizer. Now imagine what a guy like that could come up with while haunted by the specter of unprecedented social isolation, the world in disarray, and death literally floating in the air. His compositions have never been more dynamic and enthralling, and surely the voices in his head sounded a lot like Terminal Gagger. Concentric Grave is full of songs inspired by anxiety and despair, yet it manages to be tremendous fun and musically alive. These intercontinental Londoners make music reminiscent of some obvious godheads (Devo, Screamers, Gary Numan), but there's plenty of their own unique brilliance flowing through these 12 songs. Far more than just part of the atmosphere, Brake's synthesizers drive these songs. Palumbo-Rodrigues' lyrics and vocals are some of the strongest of his career — and that's really saying something. Ranging from frenzied and frantic ("Shallow Human Characteristics," "Greed for Guilt") to chilling and foreboding ("Imaginary Crimes") to angular and energetic ("Random Sequence"), these songs are as hook-laden as they are haunting. There's a truly impressive pop sensibility lying beneath the surface of these songs. "Sugar Effigy" is what I wish all synth-punk could be  — a total adrenaline rush with synths that sound like laser guns. "Hidden Moon" is the best song Joy Division never wrote. "I Wanna Know" gives the Demics classic a nifty postmodern makeover. "Underlying Problem" is Devo-core that puts all other Devo-core to shame. "Polarized" is the ultimate anthem for our times. 

If I'm often lukewarm on the synth/post-punk thing, it's because music of that sort frequently strikes me as dull or lacking in emotion. Concentric Grave is the very opposite of dull and lacking in emotion. It's the sound of two souls kicking and screaming their way out of the darkness. And we are now far enough removed from peak pandemic times to be able to enjoy an album of this nature without it hitting too close to home. There have been quite a few extraordinary albums released in 2023 already, but this sophomore release from Telegenic Pleasure is on a collision course with my year-end top ten.

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