Artist: Machine Girl
Album: The Ugly Art
Release date: 2018
For fans of: Death Grips, The Garden and Iglooghost
If what you were looking for were any sounds within the umbrella of contemporariness, you’d be hard pressed to come across anything resembling predictable on the 4th studio album by the experimental New York electro-industrial duo Machine Girl.
“The Ugly Art” sees a return to form for producer Matthew Stephenson and percussionist Sean Kelly with the first song on the album, “This Is Your Face on Dogs,” which in its less than 3-minute runtime, moves between genres of deep house, synth-punk and psychedelic hardcore. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who have knowledge of the duo’s musical shtick.
In 2014, “WLFGRL” birthed the group when it was only Stephenson, cementing the futuristic foretelling sound this debut album slated.
Conventional UK bass and trap pads could be found intertwined with blistering footwork and hardcore drum brakes, as well as punk screams and violent guitar screeches.
Four years later, we have an even more vivacious delivery of tinnitus for the ears, and because this long album is as loud and close as it is weird, far-out and dissimilar.
For example, it’s uncommon to find haunting cabaret piano tunes leading into distorted and rapid marching band drumlines, which then give way to indescribable shouts behind reverbed Casio keyboards and breakbeat drum machines.
But with Machine Girl — in this instance on the third track “Kill Screen” — it is common, and if anything, that’s the largest gripe this new record comes with, even with its catalog of diverse sounds, it’s still long.
“…Because I’m Young Arrogant and Hate Everything You Stand For,” the group’s 3rd record was a scant 38 minutes, and for an album whose main genre is “Digital Hardcore,” it’d be hard to want anything more. “The Ugly Art,” in its 53-minute run time, however, stands to lose a few pounds of oversaturated fat.
While most of this album is concise — save for one song that just barely passes the four-minute mark — a bulk of this overstaying runtime comes from the last track on the record, “A Decent Man.”
Along with this song, many of the tracks on this album are firing on such an array of cylinders, it’s difficult to even pick out what could or should be cut from the album, if anything at all.
What’s crazy is that an album, where even the last song rarely stops or slows, can hold the energy of a band who experiments as much as Machine Girl does.
This album’s alignment toward shorter, more energetic tracks is not a new niche for Machine Girl, but on this new record, it’s done in a way where barely any of it should be cut.
Much of the issue with harsh music is that it begins to stagnate, but the hybridization of industrial electronic music with cybernetic punk-pop is too ingenious for the band to let go to waste, even with this album nearing the hour-long mark.
“The Ugly Art” proves its name quite evidently, it’s not easy to listen to and it’s certainly not beautiful, but if anything, it’s an effective straddling between the lines of unlistenable and overwhelming.
It’s hard to find a modern band who maintains so much catchy energy as Machine Girl does, but even four albums deep, they find ways to refine and define their sound even further.
At 16 tracks and 53 minutes, Machine Girl finds a way to pleasantly overwhelm the listener, but not without some quirky artistic embellishments along the way, softening the harsh blow.
Rem Jensen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter at @Remington__J
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